Pearl jewelry is classic, graceful, and beautiful—but it can also be exceedingly delicate. Pearls, because of their softness and organic nature, are very sensitive to their environment and are easily damaged. Whether you've inherited a set of pearl jewelry from another family member or have invested in your first set of pearls on your own, you need to take certain precautions when wearing, cleaning, and storing them in order to preserve them for the future. This is what you should know.
When Wearing Pearls
The outer layer of your pearls is called the nacre, which is made of tiny crystals of a type of calcium carbonate that forms in layers. Those layers can gradually break down or wear off if the pearls aren't handled properly. In addition, it's important to remember that the surface of a pearl isn't as smooth as it seems—real pearls have a slightly pitted or gritty surface. The edges of the crystals make it easy for the nacre to catch and hold everything the pearls come into contact with—including dirt, cosmetics, perfumes, and lotions.
In order to protect your pearls while you wear them, make sure that you always put your pearls on last, after you dress, do your hair, add your makeup, and put on your perfume. Similarly, take your pearls off first, as soon as you come home. That way, they won't come into contact with your makeup remover or any lotions you use at night. Make sure that you take a few additional basic precautions:
- Check the settings of each piece of jewelry before you put it on. Look for loose pearls and damaged prongs—if you find any, don't wear the piece until you have it professionally inspected.
- Don't wear pearl necklaces or bracelets with very rough fabrics, like wool, which can scratch the nacre.
- Don't wear your pearls when it's hot or you think that you'll be sweating a lot. The acidic nature of human sweat can also damage the nacre.
When Cleaning Pearls
Immediately after you remove your pearls, wipe them down gently with a soft, damp cloth. Plain, non-chlorinated water (like drinking water from a bottle) can't hurt your pearls—but many jewelry cleaners can. You don't ever want to try to clean pearl jewelry with detergents, bleach, ammonia, baking soda, or an ultrasonic device. All of those will damage the delicate crystalline nacre of your pearls. There are commercial jewelry cleaners available that are safe for pearls, and you can use them if the metal setting or clasp on your jewelry gets dirty. However, restrict that option as a last resort, to be used only if simply rubbing and washing the jewelry with water won't work.
If you have a strand of pearls, lay them flat on a soft cloth to dry. Pearl strands are strung on silk thread, which can stretch and loose its shape (as well as weaken) if hung to dry.
When Storing Pearls
Pearls should always have a separate storage drawer space of their own. Using a compartmentalized jewelry drawer organizer can help make sure that your other jewelry pieces don't accidentally roll into your pearls and bang them up or scratch them when you open or close your jewelry box.
Because of their organic nature, pearls can also dry out and lose their luster if they're stored in an overly-dry compartment for too long. To prevent the air from drying your pearls even faster, make sure that each piece of pearl jewelry is placed inside its own separate pouch of soft cloth, before putting them inside your jewelry box. Never substitute plastic bags for cloth when you store your pearls—the Bisphenol A (BPA) in plastics acts like a pollutant that can harm organic materials.
While the proper handling of pearl jewelry takes a little effort, you'll be rewarded with jewelry that can continue to grace the hands, wrists, necks, and ears of generations to come.