Love Those Vintage Pearls!

Feb 18, 2013

As a kid, I spent a lot of time playing in my mother's and grandmother's jewelry boxes. When it was time to play dress-up at my grandmother's house, I always gravitated towards a triple-strand vintage pearl necklace that I eventually wore to my eighth grade dinner-dance and my high school graduation. Yes, I've always had a thing for vintage pearls, and when my dear friend sent me a wonderful collection of some cherished family heirloom jewelry last year, I was thrilled beyond words to discover that there were several necklaces made with vintage glass pearls included in my new stash of vintage jewelry.

These three imitation pearl necklaces obviously needed a little bit of TLC -- a couple of the strands had broken off of the clasps, and the findings themselves were in need of some cleaning and restoration.

How Were Faux Pearls Made?

Check out the pearl clasps on each of these vintage pearl necklaces in my collection! Some of them really need a little love.
The vintage pearl beads that made up the four-strand necklace were obviously glass, since they were heavier than the other two pearl necklaces. And the pearl beads themselves were in pretty good shape, with just one or two minor blemishes that I could see.

Vintage imitation glass pearls were made by either filling the inside of a bead or coating the outside of a bead with pearl powder. After filling or coating, the glass pearl bead was dipped into different solutions of pearl film. Multiple layers of pearl coating and film resulted in a more valuable and more durable piece of pearl jewelry.

Cleaning and Storing Your Vintage Faux Pearls

Cleaning your vintage pearls is a tricky business. You don't want to use any kind of ultrasonic jewelry cleaner, nor do you want to use anything harsh with ammonia or other abrasive cleaners. The best way to clean your vintage imitation pearls is just to give them a gentle spray with some very mild detergent diluted with water in a spray bottle, then a light rinse under cool water. Don't rub them dry, or you might find the coating is flaking off -- instead, lay your pearls flat to dry on a soft, absorbent cloth.

Storing your imitation pearls is the same as storing your natural, cultured, or freshwater pearls. instead of using a plastic bag, tuck your treasured pearls into a soft, dry, cloth bag, and store them lying flat so that the thread on which they're strung doesn't stretch or break.

Coating your imitation glass pearls? Make sure you do it in a well-ventilated area, preferably outside, and use just a light coating of spray-on acrylic sealer. Allow them to dry completely before re-stringing or knotting them.

Using Vintage Pearls in a New Jewelry Design?

Now, there's nothing that says that just because you have a vintage pearl necklace, it has to stay a vintage pearl necklace. While you're giving your pearls a little loving care, why not think about ways to use them in new jewelry designs? Check out all the amazing pearl jewelry making projects in our 10 Wire and Pearl Jewelry Designs eBook. You'll find pearl necklace projects, earring projects, and bracelet projects that use your favorite wire jewelry making techniques, including chain maille and wire wrapping.

Give some new life to your favorite old pearl jewelry! Download your copy of 10 Wire and Pearl Jewelry Designs and make something fabulous today!

Do you have any vintage pearl necklaces in your stash? What are you thinking about doing with them? Leave a comment here on the Beading Daily blog and share your ideas with us!

Bead Happy,

Jennifer


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Comments

rlanplein wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 8:52 AM

So funny that you should post this - my mom just gave me a vintage 5 strand pearl necklace of my great grandmas to fix for her.  While I was excited to work with it I was a little apprehensive too.  After reading your post - well I just might start on them today.  Thanks!!  

KipperCat wrote
on Feb 19, 2013 1:35 PM

I have some lovely vintage pearls that I would like to reuse.  I wish I knew how to tell the durability of different strands.  Some of those I have are badly flaked. I'm not sure if the others are better quality, or were just never worn.  I really appreciate the cleaning instructions, as that is something else I wasn't sure about.

phatkhat wrote
on Feb 23, 2013 3:11 AM

Does anyone know what vinegar will do to old faux pearls? I'm afraid to try it, but I have a cool brooch with faux pearls and rhinestones - and verdigris. Vinegar will usually kill the verdigris, but I don't want to dissolve the coating on the pearls!

ctutt wrote
on Feb 23, 2013 11:20 AM

On the subject of faux pearls…if you are at a thrift store or flea market and see pearls at a bargain price, pick  up a strand and rub one of the beads against your front teeth. If it just slides up and down, slick like a piece of glass, it's faux. If, however, it causes a sort of 'skritchy,'  grating feeling -- casually buy them, because those are the REAL THING.  ;-)

on Feb 23, 2013 6:50 PM

I think pearls will dissolve in vinegar, not sure but would suggest you investigate thoroughly before going to far.

on Feb 23, 2013 6:50 PM

I think pearls will dissolve in vinegar, not sure but would suggest you investigate thoroughly before going to far.

Jehanni wrote
on Feb 23, 2013 7:29 PM

My favorite strand of my grandmother's vintage faux pearls has a sequence of three different sizes of pearls repeated. My sisters and I loved them almost to death when we were children, scratching and flaking the coating. However, I've always loved the variegated size rope design. Last year at one of the gem and jewelry shows that comes through town, I bought round freshwater pearls in three sizes, so I can recreate my grandmother's necklace in "real" pearls.

vwayne wrote
on Feb 24, 2013 10:45 AM

Gosh, I never could pass up a beautiful strand of vintage faux pearls - especially the high end kind, like, Panetta, Miriam Haskell, Majorica. Great article, but I sure do wish someone could tell me how to recoat the pearls that need it. I have tested with all sorts of lacquers & enamels and still can't get the luster I'm looking for. I know that pearl dips, sprays, and coatings are super secret in that trade; but surely some of us regulars might be privy to something. Has anybody had any luck?

vwayne wrote
on Feb 24, 2013 10:47 AM

Gosh, I never could pass up a beautiful strand of vintage faux pearls - especially the high end kind, like, Panetta, Miriam Haskell, Majorica. Great article, but I sure do wish someone could tell me how to recoat the pearls that need it. I have tested with all sorts of lacquers & enamels and still can't get the luster I'm looking for. I know that pearl dips, sprays, and coatings are super secret in that trade; but surely some of us regulars might be privy to something. Has anybody had any luck?