Favorite Pearl Projects & How-to Tips from Readers

Dec 7, 2009

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The allure of pearls


Oh, those pearls!  They've captivated us for eons, in hues that span the rainbow, with textures and shapes from dewdrops to crusty grain. Lustrous. Shimmering. Exotic. Birthstone of June babies and traditional gift for thirtieth wedding anniversaries, and what's lovelier than pearls worn with a velvet party dress? Pearls are so valued that we use their name to describe anything that's exceptional, as in, "She is a pearl." So what makes a "pearl of a pearl"?

 

Real pearls

Most people know real pearls form when a foreign object gets inside a mollusk and the mollusk protects its soft body by secreting nacre to surround the object. If that object is inserted on purpose, it makes a cultured pearl. All pearls are judged by how much nacre surrounds the foreign object. There are so many sizes and shapes of real pearls, they come from so many places—the world really is our oyster!


Perfect for beginners, Anne Timmons's Freshwater Pearl Bridal Set uses the method of knotting between pearls.
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Barbara Zucker’s Pink Pearl Swirl twists many strands of affordable freshwater pearls into a collar with a magnetic clasp.
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 Marie Antoinette necklace by Stringing Editor Danielle Fox is regal with pearl drops and freshwater pearls.
 
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Crystal pearls

Crystal pearls are glass pearls formed around a crystal foreign object usually called a “seed.” They simulate the luster of real pearls and are quite lovely as beads. Their advantages include lower cost, a larger hole, and perfect symmetry. Personally, I love crystal pearls but make sure my buyers know these are not real pearls.

Waves of pearls by Miwako Nara uses crystal pearls to full advantage in a stunning seed-bead project.

Tips for pearl jewelry making from Beading Daily members
You are a wealth of experience when it comes to pearls! I took your most useful tips and answers to questions from other members about supplies, tools, and creating with pearls. A special thanks appears at the end of this blog to a few members whose chats I found the most helpful. But I think you’re all pearls!

1: Needles for pearls

  • Twisted, flexible wire needles are the most popular. Shorter is better, as the long ones bend too easily into uselessness. They come in several gauges, .020 to finest .00945. Their collapsible eye, which can be further flattened with pliers after threading, allows them to pass through tiny pearl holes. One-use only, as you cannot rethread them once the eye has been collapsed.

2: Thread for pearls

  • Silk is the traditional thread for pearls and is usually knotted between pearls. Silk thread often comes on cards, with a "built-in" needle end. Silk will stretch and discolor over time; pearls may need restringing on average in ten to twenty years. 
  • Synthetic threads are nonorganic threads, so they won't deteriorate, are UV resistant, and have less stretch than silk, or no stretch at all. Such bead threads are also usually knotted between beads.
  • Knotting: tie an overhand knot between pearls. See our How-to on pearl knotting here.

3: Beading wire for pearls

  • Use 49-strand wire, from .010mm to .015mm, to suit the holes.
  • Crimp between pearls and cover crimps with stylish crimp covers.
  • Use tiny silicone "bumpers" between each pearl; they slide/roll onto your wire like little rubber beads.

4: Using other wire with pearls

  • Pearls have notoriously small holes. To accommodate head pins or wire, enlarge the holes by twisting thin needle-like files called reamers inside the holes. Wet the reamer first and do not breathe in the dust. Any bead can be reamed. . . but some may crack.

5: How to care and store pearls

  • Silver polish damages pearls. If you string pearls with sterling silver and the silver tarnishes, you'll discolor the pearls if you try to clean the silver. Store the jewelry in a tarnish-resistant pouch.
  • Pearls need air to maintain their luster. Take them from their pouches from time to time. Do not store pearls in plastic baggies; they allow no air inside.
  • Do not expose pearls to deodorant, perfume, or scented hand or body lotions. Put on makeup and spray scents before putting on your pearls.
  • After wearing pearls, wipe them gently with a lint-free cloth before storing.

Make the Vine of Pearls bracelet by Kate McKinnon, lush with wire-wrapped pearl dangles on beading wire.
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Use an anti-tarnish pouch to store this Silver and Coin Pearl Bracelet by Monica Sargeant.

Thank you!
Special thanks to the following Beading Daily members whose chats were a great resource:
Cat, Ohio
Lita C., Long Island, New York
Deb, Arizona Bead Depot
Lois B, Utah
Sheri S., Colorado
Christina H, Pacific Northwest,  U.S.
Kokopelli Design, Germany
Elizabeth, Australia

Pearls are so celebrated, we're even featuring special novels about them in our online store. These tales are sure to inspire you to make your own fabulous jewelry! Remember that every project in our store tells you which are the best materials to use for the most beautiful results. Personally, I like using white pearls with oxidized silver for special jewelry, how about you? Please share your favorite, festive materials here on Beading Daily!


Featured Products

Freshwater Pearl Bridal Set

Availability: In Stock
Price: $4.00

eProject

3-piece pearl set

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Pink Pearl Swirl

Availability: In Stock
Price: $4.00

eProject

Multistrand necklace with a magnetic personality.

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Comments

Ann@215 wrote
on Dec 7, 2009 10:08 AM
My first pearl project is still my favorite. A simple string of pastel teardrop shaped glass pearls that are knoted and strung into a rope. Everyone that sees them loves them. I use both fresh water pearls and glass perals in my work. I like the shapes of some of the freshwater pearls and I use them with seedbeads and to accent pendants that I make from old glass crystals from lamps.
on Dec 7, 2009 10:24 AM
Hi Leslie I was hoping you could give some tips on how to tell if a pearl is real or not..I've seen people rubbing pearls on their teeth, what are they trying to find out? Thanks Elizabeth
DebWAZ wrote
on Dec 7, 2009 11:43 AM
Elizabeth, I'm not Leslie, but I can tell you. If you rub pearls against your teeth, you can tell if they are real or not because real pearls will be slightly gritty. You will hear a scratchy sound. HOWEVER, I would be cautious about doing this at a show or even in an LBS. Think about how many hands (germ filled hands) have touched them, then remember that the warehouse where they were stored and where the ship they were transported on were less than sanitary. EEWWW. Another way to tell is to very gently rub 2 pearls together. Glass or shell pearls will be slippery, but you can feel that the surface of a real pearl is gritty. There will be a slight vibration you'll feel in your arm. This method takes practice, but IMHO, it's better than exposing yourself to who-knows-what diseases. IMHO, the best (or at least the most sanitary) way to tell if a pearl is real or not is to buy from a vendor you trust, whether it's online or an LBS or at a show. If someone represents something as a real pearl and it turns out to be fake, remember it and avoid them. My line of thinking is "if they are misrepresenting (or lying about) the pearls, what else are they lying about?" White buffalo "turquoise", strawberry "quartz", or ?
Cat_P wrote
on Dec 7, 2009 11:45 AM
I love pearls! They can be varied in jewelry so well, classic, contemporary, fun, modern,retro, you name it! I love using pearls in all different combinations! Thanks Leslie! :)
on Dec 7, 2009 12:59 PM
Thanks Deb, I always wondered how to tell if the pearls where real or not. Have a Merry Christmas Everyone. Elizabeth
cheryl@197 wrote
on Dec 7, 2009 4:29 PM
Great article! Can anyone tell me where I can get some of those little silicone bumpers to place between the pearls instead of a knot?
on Dec 7, 2009 9:41 PM
Glad you all enjoyed this blog! They are truly timeless and multi-stylish. Do not rub pearls on your teeth at a show, ew, thanks for that warning, Deb. You are spot on to suggest finding a trusted source--ask another jewelry maker or your LBS owner. Remember about checking the nacre around the pearl holes. Cheryl, Google pearl or bead bumpers , or ask at your LBS. Thanks for your comments! Leslie
on Dec 18, 2009 12:23 PM

Re silver and pearls: Not only can silver polish damage your pearl, but so can sterling silver itself cause problems. Pearls can be discolored by silver tarnish, so here are some things to consider with material selection.

1) If you're using silver-plate, oxidized sterling or any grade of sterling below 999 (fine silver), try not to place these materials directly adjacent to the pearl, even if separated  by a knot. Consider using a small seed beed or cystal as a seperator. Silicone spacers will work, also, but if I'm using pearls and sterling, I try to keep all materials in the precious or semi-precious quality.

2) If you're making a precious/semiprecious project, my opinion is that it's usually worth it to spend a few extra pennies to use fine silver, instead of sterling. This will ensure that your pearls will maintain their integrity without discoloration or degradation from tarnsh and will eliminate the need for silver polish. Argentium silver would also work, but I've only seen or used it in sheet or wire form.

One of the greatest qualities of pearls is that their luster improves with repeated wearing.  This is due to 2 factors: a) exposure to relative humidity and b) absorption of minute quantities of natural skin oils.  So, just as in voting (sorry, but I'm from New Orleans), wear your pearls early and often. And as always, wear your creations with pride!!

Cote86 wrote
on Sep 5, 2011 5:49 AM

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