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Wearing pearls with style; Care and Buying Guide

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The Cultured Pearl The Buying Guide

Getting to know Gems
How to select, buy, and care for, and enjoy Pearl Jewelry

Wearing and caring for pearls
Wearing pearls with style

Pearls have always been a favorite of great jewelers, inspiring magnificent creations throughout history.  From the glorious pearl jewels of the Renaissance Age to the present, pearls have stimulated the imagination and challenged the jeweler to find the perfect setting.
The modern “cultured pearl” brought with it a fresh opportunity; for the first time ever, jewelers could depend upon quantities of pearls and reproduce designs in ways never before possible with natural pearls because of their limited supply.

Pearls offer more versatility than any other gem; they go well with any style, in any place; they can be worn from morning to evening; they look smart and attractive with sportswear, add an “executive” touch to the business suit, and elegance to even the most glamorous evening gown. Creative stringing, the use of innovative clasps, and wearing pearls in interesting ways with other jewelry can also provide added variety and versatility.

Creative pearl stringing

Creative pearl stringing can help you create a distinctive look. For the woman who loves color, stringing with other gemstones can create a very personal look. Stringing pearls with gemstone beads such as blue lapis, peach coral, rose quartz, green aventurine, or black onyx, will not only add color but will stretch the budget too.  These gemstones are less expensive than fine pearls, but they complement each other and when strung together create a longer necklace at a lower cost.  The beads can strung together create a longer necklace at a lower cost. The beads can be any size; the same size as the pearls, smaller, larger, or assorted sizes, each creating a unique look.
In addition to beads, stringing pearls together with sparkling faceted colored stones or smooth topped cabochons is a wonderful way to create a look that is distinctly your own.  depending upon the color used, and the choice of gemstones the look can be bold and tempestuous, sexual and seductive, or festive and merry.
Stringing with pearls in vrying sizes and shapes can create a soft, sculpture feeling with gentle movement and harmony.  You can even interspere various colors into the mix. If done in a long necklace, you can also double them, twist them, and create a very important, formal “torsade.”
You may need to find your own stringer to put together the right combination to meet your needs; your jeweler should be able to refer you to the right person. Just be sure each bead is separated from each pearl by a knot to avoid their scratching the softer pearl.

Creative clasps add versatility

Innovative pearl clasps that can be inserted or removed when you choose, twisted to create a double strand from one long strand, or add or remove entire section to create a necklace and bracelet suite, are creating lots of attention today, and presenting interesting new ways to wear pearls.
The “mystery clasp” also offers greater versatility. Pearls strung with a “mystery clasp” give the impression of being a continuous pearl necklace with no clasp. It is actually two pearls into which a screw attachment has been inserted; you simply “screw” or “unscrew” the pearls to open or closed the strand.
By inserting two mystery clasps into an “opera” length necklace (34 -36 inches long), depending upon where screws are inserted, you can have:

  • A continuous, long, opera, length necklace
  • A princess length necklace, and bracelet (you just unscrew one section to remove it from the necklace and attached it to your wrist)
  • A double strand choker necklace (16 and 18 inches)
  • A single choker (in either 16 or 18 inches length)

Depending upon your mood; or the necklace of what you enjoy something more ornate, you can add a brooch, pin, or pearl enhancer to complete the look.   Using mystery clasp, one necklace can look like many!
Pearl shorteners and twisters offer opportunities to wear pearls in a variety of ways, and pearl enhancers offer a lovely way to create different look with pearls, and to use the pearls to highlight another piece of jewelry.  Pearl enhancers can be of the pendant type or brooch type.

Be creative in the very way you wear your pearls

Today you can wear your pearls any way you wish. Be bold; be daring  Wear pearl pins on your hats; wear pearls in your hair; wear them draped over the shoulder or down your back with the clasp in front; tie into a gentle knot, or gently twist them!  In the fashionable  photos throughout this site, look how women used to wear pearls... we have lots of room to grow!  Whatever the event, pearls can create just the right mood.

Cultured pearls make waves with the well dressed man

Pearls have been used in men’s jewelry for centuries, symbolizing power and wealth.  From the courts of Europe to the Mogul Empire, no well-dressed man appeared without pearls.
Today, men enjoy pearls in a variety of ways; cufflinks, tie tacks, stick pin, and they are especially popular in gentlemen’s dress sets.
Few pearls have created as much excitement for men as the natural black pearls from French Polynesia, especially for use in dress sets.  The striking, yet simple elegance of the black pearl against the formal white tuxedo shirt or denim jacket makes a statement of strength and confidence.

Designers move the pearl into jewels for every occasion

A “string of pearls” has always been the foundation of the classic wardrobe, and no well-dressed woman is ever without them.  A magnificent strand of pearls can truly stand on its own, and needs nothing else to draw attention to it; it speaks for itself. But today, a single strand is just the beginning!
Pearls are now commanding the attention of the finest designers in the world.  They have come to appreciate the subtlety of their shapes and colors, their individuality, and their distinctive character. Most of all, designers recognize the vast possibilities presented by the numerous pearl varieties now available.
In this wonderful world of pearls there is a pearl waiting for you, for every occasion.  And if you are like most, the more you know the more you see, the more you will want!

Terms pertaining to necklaces...

  • Bib: A necklace of more than three strands of pearls.
  • Collar (Dog Collar): Multiple strands of pearls fitting closely around the neck.
  • Graduated: Necklace containing a large pearl in the center, with pearls becoming progressively smaller toward the ends.
  • Uniform: Necklace with nearly equal sized pearls throughout.
  • Rope (also called “sautoir” or “laria”): Anything longer than “opera” length, usually over 36 inches.
  • Torsade: Numerous strands twisted together; usually choker length, but can be longer.

Popular uniform necklace length
(All pearls are approximately the same size)

  1. Choker: 14 - 16 inches
  2. Princess: 17 - 18 inches
  3. Matinee: 20 - 24 inches
  4. Opera: 30 - 36 inches
  5. Rope: over 36 inches

Popular graduated necklace lengths
(necklaces display larger pearl at center and gradually taper down in size from the front to the back)

Sizes show largest pearl and smallest pearl size.

  1. 7 mm down to 3-1/2 mm ------ 19 inches
  2. 8 mm down to 4 mm ------ 19 inches
  3. 9 mm down to 6 mm ------ 20 inches

Caring for pearls to keep them lustrous

Once you have selected your pearls, proper care is required to protect their beauty. The compact crystalline structure or pearls makes them very durable, but they are soft and this can not be ignored.  Proper care is essential if you want your pearls to keep their lustrous beauty, and pass your treasure on to future generations.  Here are some important care suggestions:

  • Store pearls jewelry in a separate pouch to prevent scratching the pearl’s surface on sharp metal edges or prongs, or against harder gemstones.  Never toss carelessly into a purse or travel case. Store or wrap your pearls in a pouch with a oft lining, such as the lovely, inexpensive decorated satin pouches imported today from China. If you do not have anything like this, wrap your pearl jewelry in a linen handkerchief of soft tissue. For temporary storage you can use a plastic bag with a seal to protect them, but do not store pearls in an airtight environment for any extended period of time; pearls need moisture and sealed plastic containers tend to keep out moisture.
  • Avoid contact with these substances; vinegar, ammonia, and chlorine bleach of any kind, inks, hairspray, perfumes and toilet water, and cosmetics. Put on your pearls after putting on hairspray, perfumes and cosmetics. These substances will spot or disintegrate the pearl’s surface.  In strand or necklaces, they can also cause dirt and abrasive substances (found in cosmetics) to cling to the string; if not removed these abrasive particles can cause the pearl to “wear” at the drill hole, not to mention weaken the string and make it more susceptible to breaking.
    Be careful especially with vinegar, ammonia, and chlorine. Vinegar is an integral part of salad dressings and a careless drip while eating, onto a pearl ring for example, can have disastrous results. This will cause gaping holes in the pearls where the vinegar had eaten right into them!
    Ammonia can also be deadly to pearls.  Keep in mind that many commercial jewelry cleaners contain ammonia, so they should be avoided for pearls.  Also, many household cleaners contain ammonia.
    Finally, remember that chlorine is often used in public swimming pools so never wear your pearl jewelry in a pool.
  • Wipe gently with a hot damp towel before putting pearls away to remove body oils and perspiration; which are particularly harmful to a pearl’s color, as well as other damaging substances.
  • Periodic washing is recommended. Wash gently with a soft cloth in warm, sudsy water using a mild soap (not detergent).  You may also wish to use a soft brush around the knots to be sure they get clean.  After washing, rinse them in clear water and then in a thin, clean, damp cotton towel to dry (take a towel like kitchen towel, wet it and then wring as dry as you can).  When the towel is dry, the pearls will be dry, and you will avoid any risk to them. Never use jewelry cleaners containing ammonia, chemicals containing ammonia or vinegar, or abrasive (cleaners) to clean pearls.
    For gummy or caked-on dirt, wipe the pearl, or soak it briefly, in clear fingernail polish remover ( the old fashioned type that is acetone).  Unlike ammonia and vinegar, acetone will not hurt pearls.
  • Avoid storing pearls in an excessively dry place.  Pearls like moist environments; an excessively dry environment can cause the nacre on your pearls to crack. In Japan, in fact, jewelers place vials of water in their showcases to prevent the hot lamps from creating too dry an environment.  Be especially careful if you store your pearls in safety deposit box or vault.  These areas are very dry.  If you use a safety deposit box, place a damp (not wet)cloth in the box with your pearls, and check it periodically and re-dampen cloth as needed. Don’t create an overly damp place; too much moisture in a dark environment can cause mildew.
  • Restring pearls periodically.  If they are worn frequently, once a year is recommended.  Fine pearls should always be strung with knots tied in the space separating each pearl to prevent them from rubbing against each other (which can damage the nacre), or from scattering and getting lost if the string should accidentally break.  One exception is with very small pearls, in which case knotting between each pearl may be aesthetically undesirable.  Silk is recommended for stringing.
  • Remove your pearls prior to doing strenuous exercise or work.  Perspiration is detrimental to pearls, but even more important, since the pearl is softer whenever doing anything that could cause you to scratch or knock them.
  • Avoid ultrasonic cleaners. These can damage some pearls, especially if the nacre is thin or there are any surface cracks.
  • Re-polishing a damaged pearl may restore its former beauty.  We have had excellent success removing slight pitting, scratches, and some spots from a pearl’s surface.  They can be easily polished out by using a very mild abrasive and soft chamois cloth; gently rub the pearl with the compound (such as Linde-A polishing compound, available from most lapidary supply houses) and the chamois.  You may be pleasantly surprised at how you can restore a slightly damaged pearl to its former beauty. Caution: Do not do this if the pearl has thin nacre!  The abrasive will remove some of the nacre.

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To Web Masters:

The article above can be used on your web site or newsletter.

When it is published, May I request that you include my name and resource box (the bio., contact and copyright information that follows the article.  I would also appreciate if you could send me an e-mail of notification along with a complimentary copy of publication.

Bijan Aziz is the owner and Web Master for The Jewelry Hut.

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