Why Pearls Become Yellow

pearls image by Marek Kosmal from Fotolia.com

If you own a beautiful pearl necklace, bracelet or pair of earrings, you may believe this cherished piece of jewelry must be protected and packaged away for safekeeping. However, in the case of pearls, lack of use and improper storage can cause the pearls to become yellow and brittle, drying out and ruining the jewelry. By keeping some basic guidelines in mind, you can learn how to prevent your pearl jewelry from becoming yellowed and unsightly.

What are Pearls?

Pearls are formed when a seed, grain of sand or other irritant enters the shell of an oyster. At this point, the oyster reacts and covers the small piece of debris with a layer of nacre (the composite material oysters produce that pearls are made). This layer of nacre continues to get thicker and bigger as the layers continue to form. The nacre becomes hard and iridescent, then eventually the oyster is harvested, and the pearl inside is found.

Yellowing of Pearls

Sadly, the magnificent way in which pearls are formed contributes to their discoloration with limited use. Pearls naturally are designed to soak up oils and liquids—and when worn, they soak up the natural oils of your skin, resulting in a shiny, lustrous look. However, when pearls are packaged away, they are no longer able to absorb any liquid. This causes them to, in effect, dry out. Pearls are like muscles—use them or lose them.

Pearl Care

In order to keep your pearls looking shiny and iridescent, it is essential that you wear them on a regular basis. For best results, consider wearing your pearls at least once a month—you’ll extend the life of your jewelry, and do what nature intended in keeping them lubricated. Instead of attempting to clean your own pearls, taking them to a reputable jeweler for cleaning is the best idea. Most commercial jewelry cleaners are too harsh for pearls; even common soaps and detergents can be too harsh. Ultrasonic cleaning machines can shatter pearls, so stay away from those as well.

Proper Pearl Storage

If you must store pearls, store in materials that retain humidity such as chamois leather, silk or suede, according to Coleman Douglas Pearls. Also, never store along with diamonds or other hard stones that can scratch their surface. No matter how well you package, wrap and store pearls however, if you do not wear them regularly, they will be damaged. When storing, air circulation is very important. The pearls must be able to extract moisture from the air; if not the pearls will not only turn yellow, but they may crack and even break along the holes.

Pearl Prognosis

Sadly, once pearls have turned yellow and dry out, there is no way to reverse the damage. This is why it is essential that pearls are worn regularly, stored properly when not in use and cared for properly.