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Pearl Care

How do I keep my pearls looking beautiful for decades?

Here some tips help you to keep the luster of your fine pearl jewelry standing the years to come.

1. Hardness is a material's resistance to scratching and abrasions. Comparing to diamonds, opal, gold and teeth that kind of hardware, a pearl is still a relatively soft material. Knowing how soft a pearl is can help us understand why pearls should not be tossed on top of or next to other gems in a jewelry box.

And knowing that a tooth is harder than a pearl helps us understand why the "tooth test" for identifying imitations should only be done very lightly or else avoided. The basic concept of hardness is that a harder material will scratch one that is softer.

2. Besides being soft, pearls are easily damaged by chemicals or eaten away by acids such as vinegar and lemon juice. Also, heavy secretion of human body has an effect on pearl luster. Pearl jewelry should be taken off before you are doing exercise, bathing and swimming.

Pink freshwater pearl necklace

3. Heat can turn pearls brown or dry them out and make them crack. Cultured pearls, especially those with thin nacre, are not very durable. Therefore, avoid dropping or crushing them.

Cleaning Your Pearls

The softness of pearls and their low resistance to heat and chemicals mean that special precautions must be taken when cleaning them. Keep in mind the following guidelines:

1. Do not use commercial jewelry cleaners on pearls unless the labels say they are safe for pearls. Many of them contain ammonia, which will cause deterioration.

2. Never clean pearls in an ultrasonic cleaner. It can damage the pearls and wash out the color if the pearls have been dyed.

3. Never steam-clean pearl jewelry. Heat can harm them.

4. Never use detergents, bleaches, powdered cleansers, baking soda or ammonia-based cleaners on pearls.

5. Do not use toothbrushes, scouring pads or abrasive materials to clean pearls. They can scratch their surface. If there's a lump of dirt that can't be rubbed off with a soft cloth, try using your fingernails. They have a hardness of only 2 1/2 or less.

Cleaning pearls is not complicated. After you wear them, just wipe them off with a soft cloth or chamois which can be dry or damp. This will prevent the dirt from accumulating and keep perspiration, which is slightly acidic, from eating away at the pearl nacre.

The pearls can be washed in water and a mild soap such as Ivory or Lux liquid (some liquid soaps, such as Dawn, can damage pearls) and cleaned with a soft cloth but not a brush. Pay attention to the areas around the drill holes where dirt may tend to collect. After washing them, lay the pearls flat in a moist kitchen towel to dry. After the towel is dry, they should be dry. Do not wear pearls when their string is wet. Wet strings stretch and attract dirt which is hard to remove. Likewise do not hang pearls to dry.

Storing Your Pearl Jewelry

Pearls are composed of about 2 to 4 % water along with calcium carbonate and an organic binder called conchiolin. If the pearls become dehydrated, they can get brittle and crack. Consequently, they should not be kept near heaters or in places that get strong sunlight, such as on a window sill. Safe deposit boxes can be unusually dry, so if you ever store pearls there, try to take them out occasionally and expose them to humidity or moisture. Sealed plastic bags are not the best place for pearls. They can keep them from breathing and getting moisture.

Jewelry pouches or cloth bags should be used to keep in something that will protect them from scratches. Pearls can also be wrapped in soft material and kept wherever convenient.

Having Your Pearls Strung

Pearl necklaces can stretch with time and the string can get dirty and weak. Thus, they should be restrung periodically-about once a year, but that depends on how often they are worn. Fine pearls should be strung with silk and with knots tied between each pearl. This prevents them from rubbing against each other and from scattering if the string should break.

Occasionally pearls are strung with gold beads. According to a Los Angeles pearl stringer, gold turns pearls ivory-colored and coral black, and this is a permanent discoloration. Therefore, it's not advisable to string expensive pearls with gold beads.

1. Take your pearls off when applying cosmetics, hair sprays and perfume. These beauty aids are made of chemicals and acids which can harm your pearls.

2. Take your pearls off when showering or swimming. It's not good to get the string wet, plus the chlorine or soap can damage the pearls. Pearl rings should be taken off when washing your hands or the dishes. Put the ring in a protective container or safe spot where it won't accidentally fall in the drain or get lost.

3. When selecting pearl jewelry, check to see if the pearl is mounted securely. Preferably, the pearl will have been drilled and glued to a post on the mounting, especially if it is a ring. Otherwise, the pearl may come loose. If the pearl is flawless, a drill hole could lower its value. In such a case, it would be safer to set the undrilled pearl in a pin, pendant or earring than in a ring.

4. When taking off a pearl ring, grasp the shank or metal part rather than the pearl. This will prevent the pearl from loosening and coming into contact with skin oil on your hand.

5. Avoid wearing pearls with rough fabrics such as Shetland wool. They can scratch the pearls. About every six months, have a jewelry professional verify that the pearls on your jewelry are securely mounted or that the string is still good. Many jewelers will do this free of charge, and they'll be happy to answer your questions regarding the care of your jewelry.

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