This particular problem is something I've been thinking about since
seeing pearls set like this on a reliquary in the Victoria & Albert
Museum in London many years ago.
Just recently I was able to check out Robert von Neumann's "The
Design and Creation of Jewelry" from the library. Illustrated there
near the end of the Pearl Setting section of Chapter 4 "Decorative
Surface Techniques" are three different methods of attaching a pearl
(or other drilled-through bead) to sheet.
The first technique discussed is what intrigued me -- using a
beading tool to compress and round off the slightly-projecting
(1/32") end of a fine (rather than sterling) silver wire. The wire's
diameter should be just able to fit through the drilled hole of the
pearl (i.e. use as large a diameter wire as possible), and von
Neumann cautions that not too much pressure should be used [if you
are using the beading tool near the pearl] because pearls chip and
Obviously it's a riveting technique. But perhaps it could work in
your design to draw a bead on one end of a fine silver wire, and make
this smaller M&M-like rivet on the other end? And there are other
kinds decorative rivets that might work. Anyway, just a thought...