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Pearls for Tears

How many times have I heard this, "Pearls for Tears". Do I believe it? Yes, but not for the reason that the old wives tales state. I've often seen tears of joy when someone is presented with a stunning row of classic pearls or a one of a kind piece of pearl jewellery.

In my opinion, most superstition surrounding pearls and gemstones is related to a lack of understanding, just the same as many superstitions. I'll deal with "Opals are unlucky" in another post later on. As for why Pearls are for Tears, I have no definitive answer. Reasons range from a row or pearls breaking signalling an imminent death, to losing their shine and predicting unhappiness. I believe in luck, but I also believe you make your own fate, so let's change the reputation of the humble, but beautiful pearl.

Why do rows or strings of pearls break? Why do they lose their shine? Why do they sometimes break? The cause is usually far from witchcraft, sorcery or some strange superstitious reason (although I'm sure there is something I can't explain somewhere), it's often a case of care and maintenance.

A little Mushroom pearl getting ready to be re-strung.

Number one on the list is the "string" breaking. I very often only see a row of pearls for re-stringing when they've broken, I would hope to see them before this, but this doesn't happen often. A well maintained row should rarely break. There are mishaps of course, usually involving children or animals, but other than that, it should be plain sailing. The important thing is to build in a bit of a servicing plan.

In an ideal world, a row of pearls should be re-strung once a year. If they are worn everyday or very frequently,maybe every 6 months. Why? Well here comes the answer and it may be a little off putting, but have a think about it. I thread pearls on silk, a natural fibre that is good for the pearls compared to nylon thread. Being a natural fibre, it will degrade over time and moisture and dirt contribute to this. When a string of pearls is worn, both the pearls and the silk pick up dirt, moisture and oils from the skin. If this is left to do its thing, the silk will start to break down. Regular re-stringing will make sure the pearls are cleaned and the silk replaced so you are back to square one. If you don't plan this in, think of what state a top or dress would be in if it wasn't washed between outings, this is what is happening to the silk.

Isn't there something more suitable than silk? Not in my opinion. Silk is gentle on the pearls and they are the important bit, the bit you've spent the money on. An alternative that some use is Nylon. This is pretty tough stuff and can make a row last for many years before stringing is needed, but, when you add a little grit from dust, it makes a pretty effective saw blade. This is gradually eating its way into your pearls, widening the holes and making sharp edges or slits.

So that's the mysterious breaking dealt with, a lack of maintenance, easily fixed. What about them losing their shine? This can happen for a number of reasons, one being general wear and tear over many years, but there are others. The main reason I have seen this happen is when pearls have come into direct contact with perfume and hairspray, this can kill off the lustre of pearls almost instantly. At the most basic level, Pearls (the more usual varieties) are made from calcium carbonate, a very much prettier and more complicated version of most calcium carbonate you are likely to encounter, but it still has the same weaknesses. Think of limescale and how it can be cleaned off with vinegar, limescale is calcium carbonate. Solvents, acids and alkalies are like Kryptonite to a pearl, stopping them in their tracks. So if you happen to catch pearls with perfume or hairspray, you can almost watch the shine go way and it's irreversible. Don't get these solvents on to a pearl.

The last one to think about is a pearls hardness. They are fairly soft, you can scratch them with a copper coin and the myriad of harder things lying around just waiting for a chance to take a bite out of them. Try and limit their contact with harder substances. Store pearls in their own compartment or bag. Don't wear others chains, necklaces or bracelets next to them.

So to recap and prevent tears(other than tears of joy);

1. Get them re-strung regularly (the clasp will also get checked for safety at the same time).

2. Avoid solvents, perfumes and hairspray. Pearls are the last thing to go on when leaving the house after all the above have settled down.

3. Store and wear them sensibly, protecting them from getting damaged by harder substances.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me and I will do my best to answer.

Best wishes,


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