Cleaning Pearl Jewellery

What are Pearls?

White and black round cultured pearls.
White and black round cultured pearls.

Pearls are often called an organic gem stone. This is true in the sense of how they come into being. Natural pearls are the byproduct of an irritation suffered by a mollusk. A pearl is made of calcium carbonate and is formed in the mantel of a clam. The mollusk attempts to lessen an irritation caused by some foreign object that has made its way into its shell. The mollusk covers the foreign body in concentric layers of calcium carbonate. The result is a pearl.

Pearls come in an amazing range of shapes and colours.
Pearls come in an amazing range of shapes and colours.

Most of the pearls we come into contact with are “Cultured”. They have been created by purposely introducing the right kind of irritant into the shell of a farmed mollusk. Gem quality naturally occurring pearls are very rare.

Cleaning cultured pearls.

Special care should be taken cleaning pearls.

Pearls used in jewellery have normally been drilled either part the way through, for use in a ring for example or all the way through to make a strand of pearls. This hole creates problems for cleaning.

Drilled pearls
The hole drilled through pearls leaves them open to damage if they are exposed to water for any length of time.

Undrilled pearls are very effective in repelling water. Drilled pearls are not. If a drilled pearl remains wet for any length of time, the moisture will begin to soften the inside of the pearl. If the moisture contains any acids the pearl will begin to dissolve.

  • Never place pearls in Silver Dip. Silver Dip contains sulfuric acid.
  • Never put pearls in to an ultrasonic cleaning machine.
  • Never use a steam cleaner on pearl jewellery.
  • It is not a good idea to get drilled pearls wet.
  • Do not use harsh polishes on pearls. At home you should avoid using any polishing compounds on pearls.

Cleaning pearl strands.

If you need to clean a strand of pearls at home, I advise wiping each individual pearl with a soft damp cloth. Drying them with another soft cloth and finally giving each pearl a light polish with an untreated soft polishing cloth.

Cultured freshwater pearl bracelet
Cultured freshwater pearl bracelet. Pearl strands should be cleaned with caution. Stuller

If there are large gaps between the pearls or if they are knotted, between the pearls and the knot on either side, then it is time to have them restrung. Most pearl stringers will clean the pearls before they are restrung.

Pearl strands should be regularly restrung by a professional pearl stringer.

Cleaning pearl set jewellery.

Pearls on rings, earrings, pendants or brooches, may have to be unavoidably washed. Hand wash the jewellery with a mild cleaner, LilyJewels SparkleClean. Do not soak the piece of pearl jewellery. Pearls on rings and brooches are usually glued, with a post. You should check if the pearl is secure before cleaning.

Pearl, white and black diamond ring.
Pearl, white and black diamond ring. A combination of materials means pearl set jewellery must be washed.

Dry the piece thoroughly. Then polish the metal parts with a Sunshine polishing cloth or LilyJewels ProPolishing Pads, avoiding the pearl. Lightly polish the pearl with a soft untreated polishing cloth.

Costume paste pearls.

Paste pearls are either a glass or plastic bead, with some kind of coating applied.

Most professional jewellers will avoid cleaning paste pearls. Some of the coatings simply wash off in plain water. Even polishing with a soft untreated cloth is risky.

My advice is not to clean paste pearl jewellery.