In order to fully appreciate the fragile quality and unique nature of pearls, here's a brief story of how they are created.
Pearls consist almost entirely of nacre, which is the substance formed in the inner layers of the mollusk shells. Nacre, known as mother-of-pearl, is composed primarily of aragonite crystals. The pearl is an abnormal growth resulting from the invasion of the body of the mollusk by a minute irritant, such as a parasite. The particle acts as an irritant in the mollusk and becomes coated with layer upon layer of nacreous material. Both marine and freshwater mollusks produce pearls, but the most valuable varieties originate in the pearl oyster of the Persian Gulf.
The most prized pearls are spherical in shape. When a pearl that has been cut from the shell presents a hemispherical surface, it is sometimes called a bouton pearl. If a solid pearl has an irregular shape, having grown over a rough object, it is known as a baroque pearl. In the jewelry trade, pearls are commonly known as pear, bell, or drop, according to the shape. Pearl coloration varies widely, the most prized shades being white, black, rose, and cream.
Now that you know what pearls are and how they are formed, you should learn how to clean them and give them the proper care. Because they are so fragile, you cannot clean your pearls like you clean your jewelry; they'll get scratched and loose their iridescence.
How to Clean Pearls:
- Place soiled pearls, either loose or still in a necklace, bracelet or earrings into a piece of old pantyhose and secure ends so pearls cannot escape.
- Fill a sink with warm water and mild shampoo.
- Place "bag" of pearls into water and shampoo mixture and gently message the pearls with a soft, non abrasive, lint free fabric - being careful not to put stress on the silk thread.
- When you sense that the soil is removed, rinse with clear water.
- Take pearls from "bag" and gently absorb moisture with a soft, lint free towel and allow them to dry.
- Don't put on your pearls until after you've put on your makeup, perfume and lotions. This will prevent these products from building up on your jewelry.
- Use a soft, lint-free cloth to wipe your pearls after you take them off.
- Consider buying a special cleaning solution that is formulated specifically for pearls.
- If your pearls have become dull, use a damp cloth to gently pat them clean, then let them dry flat.
- To return the luster, wipe the pearls with a little olive oil on a cloth. This should bring the shine back.
Realize that pearls are very delicate so handle them with care. This way you can ensure they will last so you can hand them down to future generations.
- Store them away from any other jewelry, as other gemstones can scratch them.
- Select a velvet-lined jewelry box with separate compartments or keep them in a silk pouch.
- Check the silk cord that holds the pearls regularly to be sure it is not fraying.
- Every year or two, ask a professional jeweler to restring your strand of pearls. Insist on using pure silk thread or a nylon necklace cord. Both are strong and durable.
- Ask to have your pearls individually knotted. This will prevent the pearls from rubbing against each other and will also protect them if the cord were to break.
- If you prefer a more modern look for your pearl jewelry, instead of having them strung on a silk rope, ask for them to be strung on a wire instead.
- Avoid exposing your pearls to perfume, cosmetics or perspiration, which can dull and discolor them.