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Who doesn’t love a lustrous, elegant and stylish string of creamy white pearls? Pearls go with almost any outfit and looks stunning on almost everybody, making them a jewelry staple for most people. But the beauty of the pearl lies in its sheen and color. And if your pearls are starting to turn yellow, this can have a huge impact on how it looks. Obviously.
Wait, what?! Pearls turn yellow?
Unfortunately, yes. Just like everything else, over time, pearls tend to change and age, especially if not properly taken care of. And as with almost everything, prevention is better than cure.
Here’s what you need to know about taking care of your pearls so you can prevent them turning yellow.
Yellow vs Yellowed Pearls
First things first, don’t confuse yellowed pearls with yellow pearls. What’s the difference, you ask? Pearls come in a range of colors, including yellow and golden. They have been cultivated to acquire this color and are sold as yellow pearls. These pearls are beautiful in their own right and are highly valuable and sought after.
An example of yellow pearls. See them here.
But yellowed pearls refers to pearls that were once white (or a shade of white) and have now acquired yellow tints due to environmental conditions and aging. Yellow pearls have a fresh, lustrous look while yellowed pearls look dull and dry.
Why Do Pearls Turn Yellow?
Pearls are very soft organic gemstones (2.5 to 4 on the Mohs scale of hardness), made of layer upon layer of nacre secreted by a mollusc. As time passes, this organic substance is subject to change, due to natural processes that changes its composition. This is normal and can happen to any pearl, regardless of quality or how much you paid for it.
The main reason that pearls turn yellow is when they have been stored away for a long time in a dry environment where there is no moisture and circulation of air. This causes the organic substance to dry out and become brittle and yellow.
Some people worry that if their pearls are turning yellow, this means that they are fake.
Quite the opposite. Fake or imitation pearls almost always never turn yellow, as they are made of materials such as plastic and ceramic. Yellowing generally means that your pearls are organic and subject to change.
How Does Yellowing Impact Pearls?
Apart from the obvious deterioration in freshness and color, yellowing can also indicate a breach in the strength of the pearl. When the nacre is dried out, it becomes brittle making it prone to fractures and chipping. The outer layers of nacre often start to chip and flake off, especially around the drill holes. There is also a higher chance that your pearl will shatter if knocked or bumped.
Can I Make Them White Again?
This depends on how much damage has been done. If the pearls have been drying out and dying slowly for a very long time, then it may not be possible to restore them to their former luster and color. Once the pearl starts to show flaking and chipping, it usually means that reversing the process is not possible.
In the case of pearls, prevention is much easier than cure, which is why they should be taken care of appropriately to avoid them drying out in the first place.
How Can I Prevent My Pearls from Turning Yellow?
While reversing the damage is difficult, preventing it from happening in the first place is much easier.
The simple solution to keeping your pearls from turning yellow is to simply wear them more. As pearls come into contact with air and moisture, they receive the hydration they require keeping them lustrous and beautiful. Your body oils also act as a moisturizer for the pearls, keeping them from drying out. Wearing your pearls one or twice a month is sufficient to maintain the color of your pearls.
There is a caveat to this, however. Too much sweat can cause pearls to lose their shine so always ensure to take your pearls off if you are engaging in any vigorous activity.
Store Them Carefully
When you do store your pearls away, avoid sealing them in plastic bags or other storage solutions that cut off air circulation and moisture. These airtight, hot environments are a pearl’s worst nightmare.
Try storing the pearls in a fabric pouch instead in a cool place, away from sources of heat. Placing a couple of wet cotton balls in along with your pearls will also help to keep them hydrated.
Before you store the pearls away, always give them a quick wipe over with a soft cloth. This will get rid of any excessive sweat, body oils, chemicals or grime. These can harm your pearls over time and affect the color.
General Pearl Care Tips
Because pearls are quite fragile gemstones, you will need to take good care of them to ensure that they remain lustrous for decades… maybe even a lifetime and beyond.
Keep them away from harsh chemicals such as hairspray, perfume, cosmetics, bleach and vinegar as these can damage the pearl’s soft outer layer. Wash your pearls regularly using only mild soap and a soft cloth. Again, keep away from harsh cleaning solvents.
When storing, ensure that the pearls are kept away from other jewelry, which can easily scratch the pearls. If you must place your pearls in a safety deposit box or other airtight container, don’t forget to put in some wet cotton balls or a damp cloth to ensure there is moisture in the environment.
Yellowing is a natural process and can easily be prevented. With reasonable care, you can keep your pearls pearly white for a very long time!