Pearls are most often incorporated in jewelry as strands. True, there are some more contemporary styles for pearls; Gellner, one of our designers, is a great example of a designer who has taken cultured pearl jewelry to a completely different level. But mostly, you’ll see cultured pearls featured in strands, from 14-inch chokers to flowing 36-to-50-inch strands that can be worn long or wrapped up and stacked.
Many women have a strand of pearls their mother or grandmother owned, or a strand they received as a wedding gift. Chances are those strands are starting to loosen up, or have even broken. Occasionally, we’ll see a strand of pearls so stretched out that the knots aren’t keeping the pearls separated anymore, and the pearls have ground against one another, damaging their nacre.
The remedy? Restringing your pearls. It’s a simple process, and my appraiser/gemologist, Tracy, also happens to be an excellent pearl-stringer.
Restringing pearls is vital to their longevity. The silk string pearls are on is affected by both gravity and age. It can stretch out and decay and will eventually break. Once a strand starts to stretch out, and the pearls are given room to move around, it will only put more stress on the silk, making it deteriorate even faster.
Knotting a strand of pearls is important for that very reason. Having knots between pearls prevents them from scattering all over the floor if the strand ever does break. Knotting the strand also keeps the pearls from banging and grinding against one another, which can be very destructive to fine pearls. The only exception to knotting a strand is when the pearls are so small (called seed pearls) that the knots are bigger than the pearls, or will make it look disproportionate, at best.
The main indications that your strand of pearls needs to be restrung before you suffer a break are fairly easy to detect once you know what to look for. Gapping and stretching is often the last sign before a strand breaks, so if your pearls are stretched out and move freely between their knots, it is unquestionably time to have them restrung.
The knots themselves tell you a lot about the health of your strand. If the knots on your strand are starting to slide inside the holes drilled in the pearls, that’s a sign that that particular area is under exceptional stress, and it will likely be the spot of a break.
Fuzzy, fraying knots are also a median indicator. As a strand loosens, the pearls are given room to move and they can rub at the knots. Pearls may be soft by gem standards, but they are much harder than the silk upon which they are strung, and a jagged drill hole in a pearl is like tiny teeth worrying at the knot next to it. Frayed knots are also the best early indicator on strands of dark-colored pearls, which are usually strung on dark silk.
One of the earliest signs that your pearls are approaching the necessity of restringing is dirty knots. Of course, this only applies if your pearls are on white or otherwise lightly-colored silk. The pearl string absorbs body oil, dead skin slough, sweat, and anything else with which it comes into contact. When the knots start to darken to yellow, brown, or black, it’s time to start considering getting your pearls restrung. Dirty knots break down faster, which ultimately leads to fraying and/or stretching, not to mention they stand out in a bad way against white pearls.
When a strand of pearls is freshly strung, it will often be shorter than when it came in, but the number of pearls has not changed. The strand may even seem a little too tight and look bunched up at places. This is totally normal, and is a sign of a good stringing job. As the strand is worn, the knots will settle, and the strand will start to be more fluid. You can even drape a soft cloth over a doorknob or coat hanger and hang the strand from that (to protect the pearls) for a few days to give gravity a chance to work.