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My Father's Handmade Black Pearl Necklace and Pearl Appraisals

Aug 17, 2007
While in WWII my father sent home a necklace. On the box it says "Handmade black pearl necklace, purchased while he was in Italy." It is black with orange beads between pearls shapes. It looks more like mother of pearl to me, but the black color throws me off. The pearls could be genuine, but to be sure you really need to get a professional evaluation either by an estate jewelry appraiser or gemologist.

Another way to tell if they are genuine is to rub a pearl against your teeth. If it is smooth, it is not genuine. Pearls will always have a roughness that you can't detect visually. The orange beads could be coral. If they are genuine black pearls, their value would depend on size, quality and color. Something only someone with a "hands-on" examination could determine.

I'm going to sell an antique strand of pearls and a potential buyer asked to know how the pearls were "signed". Generally in old items and even some new, signed simply means some means of identification of the maker or designer. On antique glassware for example, a signature mark may be pressed or cut into the glass. Some antique costume jewelry is "signed" with a makers mark and that does increase the value if the maker is among the popular ones at the time.

For pearls, a "sign" is difficult. The only place for a signature or makers mark is generally on the clasp area. This will be either on the clasp or the "tongue" that goes into the larger clasp body. Clasps can be changed when pearls are restrung and a signed clasp can always be suspect as to the real "maker" of the pearls. If these are genuine or cultured pearls, the value is likely more in the pearls than in the "signature".

If these are costume pearls, the value is partially in the signature and then in the condition of the strand. The condition of the pearls is more imprtant than the condition of the cord used for stringing.Stringing can be and should be done regularly for pearls worn often.

I have not seen pearls "signed" very often and as I said, that can be suspect as to accuracy. Look for some mark on the clasp parts to see if any names or "trademarks" are stamped there. That will be the only signature you will have.

Could be the potential buyer is looking for a particular make of costume pearl or then again might be asking and not really knowing what the buyer is asking for! The best thing is for the buyer to look at the pearls and to offer you a price. If not happy with the price, just refuse it. Some buyers are in the business to resell the items and only offer prices way below market values.

It is possible to take the strand to a qualified jeweler for an appraisal. If the pearls are costume, the jeweler should be able to tell right away and advise against a full appraisal. If they are real pearls, the jeweler can appraise the strand based on the pearls, not on the antique value. That is at least a starting place.

I cannot see your pearl brooch but assume the pearls radiate in some floral pattern, perhaps on individual "stems" or as part of "flowers." If this is the case, you have some space between the pearls which will make cleaning easier. If the pearls are closely grouped covering much of the gold, cleaning will be more tedious and difficult.

I will get into specific cleaning in a moment: First, consider care and cleaning of pearls in general. In a nutshell, cleaning the brooch yourself will come down to baking soda, a good jewelry polishing cloth and a mild detergent. You may opt for a jeweler to do the cleaning. I will get into the specifics later.

"Pearls." Composition of a pearl and why care must be exercised in cleaning and wear. Pearls form naturally in both fresh and saltwater mollusks. The most well-known pearls are saltwater pearls formed inside various forms of pearl oysters. While "oriental" or totally natural pearls were the gems in ages past, pearl farming has led to a supply of cultured pearls which would be impossible from free ranging oysters and the efforts of pearl divers.

Only chance will bring a free swimming oyster to produce a pearl and only fortunate environment will lead to a natural pearl being well-formed, smooth surfaced and beautiful. In pearl farms, many conditions are controlled to help insure a good crop but today pollution in the waters are damaging the growth and supply of fine cultured pearls.

The pearl forms around some type of foreign object inside the oyster shell. In cultured pearls, the object is a bead of mother of pearl (pearl shell) placed into the oyster by pearl farmers. Seeing the object as an irritation, the oyster covers the object with layer and layer of a material called nacre. This is essentially the same material making the shiny and lustrous lining of the shell.

Pearl nacre is made of aragonite, a type of calcium carbonate. A sort of "pearl glue" holds together microscopic plates of aragonite. As long as the oyster is healthy, the nacre forms and becomes thick over the core, developing the luster and shine we recognize as a pearl.

Why all of that information? There is one reason: aragonite or calcium carbonate. This is the substance of the pearl, the nacre. This material is soft compared to earth formed gemstones. This material is easily damaged by acids, certain chemicals and abrasive substances. The general cleaning methods used for mineral gemstones cannot be safely used to clean the tarnished metal and pearls at the same time. Where a simple gold item may be placed into a mild acid to remove tarnish and buffed to restore shine, that same mild acid will etch the pearl and can actually dissolve it.

"What to avoid when cleaning pearl jewelry?" As important as how to clean the jewelry is knowing what "NOT" to use as a cleanser. Commercial jewelry cleaning liquids are too strong for pearls. Most of these cleaners contain ammonia and ammonia can damage the pearl, reducing the luster. Jewelry cleaners are pretty much ineffective in removing tarnish and are designed to free up and remove dirt and grime more than remove tarnish.

Avoid any cleanser with ammonia, chlorine or abrasives added. Avoid jewelry or silver polishing cloths with a red rouge layer. The rouge is a polishing compound but the red material(iron oxide) can easily get lodged in unseen recesses of a pearl and make the pearl unsightly.

"What to use to clean pearls and remove tarnish from metal?" Oh my, now we get into basic elbow grease! At home cleaning in the safest form is done by taking a wet paste of baking soda and gently rubbing the metal. If the tarnish is not severe, the mild abrasive nature of the damp soda will remove it. Rub with your fingers on the metal only, using a soft brush or implement such as a wet toothpick or cotton ear swab for hard to reach areas. To restore shine to the metal, follow-up with a fine quality jewelry polishing cloth metal.

I recommend one of the chemically treated cloths such as "Sunshine Cloth" from a jewelry parts and tools supplier. Other similar cloths are available at jewelry stores. Frankly, many jewelry store employees don't know much about the cleaning supplies that sell. So be sure not to get the kind with a red rouge layer, even if recommended. Craft stores and jewelry stores often use RioGrande as a source and should be able to get a "Sunshine Cloth" for you. Like other similar cloths, light action quickly removes tarnish. With light tarnish, you may use the cloth alone and skip the baking soda. These cloths are used "as is" and are simply discarded when used up.

To follow-up this cleaning with a quick rinse in a mild dish detergent is a good idea. This will remove any residue. Simply take a mild solution of dish detergent like Joy (remember, no ammonia!),rub gently with the fingers, rinse in warm water and pat dry. That is it.

"Security of the pearls." While cleaning the brooch, gently grasp each pearl and see if it turns on the mounting stem or within the setting. If on a stem of metal, the pearl should be removed and re-cemented with a clear two part epoxy cement. This is likely a job for the jeweler to do. If loose in a claw or prong type setting, a jeweler can quickly and gently tighten the settings.

"Cleaning by a jewelry." You may decide to let a jeweler clean the brooch and secure any loose pearls. If pearls are removed and re-cemented, while the pearls are removed the brooch may be machine polished to an almost like new condition with no fear of damage to the pearls. If cleaned with the pearls intact, the jeweler will use fine rotary brushes to buff away the tarnish. Then, all is cleaned in a mild detergent solution generally using an ultrasonic cleaner.

Before you do any of the things that I have just suggeted to you, you should go see a jewelry and ask him some of the questions that I have just mentioned. That way you get all of your base covered and you will not tarnish the pearls.
About the Author
Victor Epand is an expert consultant for http://www.FashionJewelryStore.info/. FashionJewelryStore.info carries the best selection of fashion jewelry, watches and fragrances on the market. Start looking for diamond jewelry here: http://www.FashionJewelryStore.info/stone/diamond.html.
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