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Resurrecting old pearls


#1

I’m hoping someone can give me advice regarding some old faux
pearls. My mother-in-law has asked me to restring a set of faux
pearls that belonged to her late mother. She said she knows they’re
not good quality pearls but that they mean so much to her as it’s the
only thing she still has that belonged to her mother and she’d like
to be able to wear them.

They are a sort of champagne colour and a lot of the beads are in
poor condition - there are three beads that hang from the clasp and
only the glass remains, with virtually no coating on them at all.
They all need a good clean but I’m not sure how to clean glass faux
pearls where the coating is very poor and non-existent in some
places, obviously without causing any more damage to what coating
remains. I’ve not strung pearls before but I have seen instructions
on many sites on the internet so that shouldn’t be too much of a
problem. I’ll need to buy some silk to string them and probably a
bead board so I can graduate them without them rolling all over the
place! Am I right in thinking that the silk has to be pre-stretched?
Any advice on this job would be much appreciated.

Helen
UK


#2

Hi Helen,

I don’t know of any way to help those old faux pearls. Once the
coating starts coming off, rubbing against clothing or skin will
likely make more come off. I would just try to gently brush the dirt
off with a soft artist’s brush. If dirt remains, dampen a cloth
slightly and carefully wipe them. Experiment on one that’s already
damaged to see if it makes it worse.

The best thing might be to leave out the bad ones, and add some
other kind of beads (of a smaller diameter) in between the rest to
make the necklace longer. Depending on how much length you need,
between every pearl, or maybe every third pearl. Or you could add a
chain extender to the back.

You don’t need to buy a bead board just for one necklace. Just put a
towel on the table and lay out the pearls on that.

Lauren


#3

Helen

I'm not sure how to clean glass faux pearls where the coating is
very poor and non-existent in some places, obviously without
causing any more damage to what coating remains. I've not strung
pearls before but I have seen instructions on many sites on the
internet so that shouldn't be too much of a problem. I'll need to
buy some silk to string them and probably a bead board so I can
graduate them without them rolling all over the place! Am I right
in thinking that the silk has to be pre-stretched? 

Wash your pearls in a gentle soap with warm water. I’m not sure
what’s available in England, here in the US I would use something
like Ivory Ultra or a similar soap. You can gently brush soiled areas
with a soft toothbrush (a child’s toothbrush is ideal). Since these
are faux pearls, they will have larger stringing holes than true
pearls, so use a #5 or #6 silk for your restringing. And yes, you
should pre-stretch your silk. You can either stretch it with your
hands before you begin working (rather hard on your hands) or you can
take the easy way out and do what I do. I take the length of silk
(usually 2 metres) and tie a coffee cup to each end. I then hang the
thread over the top of a door for at least 24 hours. When I remove
the thread to use it, I try and use it within 2 hours of removing the
weight to keep that stretch in the silk. Good luck with the pearls -
I’m sure they will be treasured when you return them to the owner.

BBR - Sandi Graves
Stormcloud Trading Co (Beadstorm)
Saint Paul, Minnesota


#4

Hello Orchid Subscribers,

I am new to this forum and wanted to introduce myself. My name is
Kennon Young. I am a 25YO jeweler out of Burlington, VT. I attended
the Revere Academy back in 2000 and have been making jewelry since
high school in 1998. I own and operate the Vermont Gemological
Laboratory where I fabricate custom jewelry and performgems and
jewelry valuations for insurance, estate tax, MCV, FMV, etc.
www.vermontgemlab.com

As for resurrecting old pearls- I know the better faux pearls are
painted with a paint that exhibits orient. This is created by ground
up fish scales mixed with a matte white opaque “base paint”. I havent
a clue where to find it, but you may want to try calling faux pearl
manufacturing companies to find the paint or to see if they offer
"patch kits". Be sure to check for lead in these paints.

You may be able to find a quick fix with nail polish?

Good Luck.

Kennon Young, GG, CBJT
Member, NAJA
USPAP Certified


#5

Kennon,

Welcome to Orchid. Your post made me smile.

Many years before you were born, I had a treasured “Pearl” ring set
in sterling. Sadly, after much wear, the “Pearl” began to peel. I
was ever so sad.

Well about that time, pearlized nail polish appeared, so I thought
Hmmmm, why not. I peeled the Pearl down to the glass base, and
slowly, like an Oyster builds Nacre, I began to paint on Platinum
Nail Polish, layer by layer. To my eyes, it was perfect, and I
believe I still have it among my treasures.

Your idea is not far fetched at all. Thanks for bringing it forward.

Hugs,
Terrie


#6

Hi Kennon,

You may be able to find a quick fix with nail polish?

This solution has also been suggested by another Orchidian and may
prove to be an inexpensive solution to my problem. Thank you for the
advice.

Helen
UK


#7
Well about that time, pearlized nail polish appeared, so I thought
Hmmmm, why not. I peeled the Pearl down to the glass base, and
slowly, like an Oyster builds Nacre, I began to paint on Platinum
Nail Polish, 

It is a brilliant idea, but unfortunately the necklace in question is
not just a simple strand of “pearls”, but a five strand necklace! So
the thought of hand painting hundreds of glass beads with nail polish
fills me with dread. I am therefore looking into the possibility of
being able to find a pearlised spray paint with perhaps some sort of
etching primer as an undercoat. Any recommendations gratefully
received.

Helen
UK


#8

Dear Helen,

I'll need to buy some silk to string them and probably a bead board
so I can graduate them without them rolling all over the place! Am
I right in thinking that the silk has to be pre-stretched? 

Silk does not need to be pre-stretched, especially for so
light-weight a necklace. I’ve been stringing for over 25 years and
have yet to need to pre-stretch silk, even for heavy, "aerobic"
pieces. Silk will stretch slightly, but much less than nylon, twisted
or braided. And silk gives a necklace a lovely liquidity of movement.

Kind regards,
Mary Stachura
www. StachurWholesale.com


#9

I’ve had another look at the disastrous “pearls” in question and
they are all very battered and worn, most of them clearly showing the
glass bead underneath.

I had a lightbulb moment and wonder if others think this will work.
I figure that if I clean them all and try to remove the remaining
coating (Murphy’s law says that if I want to keep the coating, it
will come off easily but if I want to get rid of it, it’ll stick like
glue!), temporarily string and knot them onto cotton thread and hang
them up, spray them with an auto etching primer, then a pearlised
auto spray paint in the appropriate colour - that might be a good
solution to my pearl woes. What do people reckon? And do you think
I’d need to do a clear coat afterwards?

I will also be making a new clasp out of silver as the old base
metal clasp is horrible. Then I’ll restring the newly painted
"pearls" on silk with knotting between the beads. Any thoughts?

Helen
UK


#10

Hi Mary,

Thanks for your email regarding my mother-in-law’s pearls. It’s
proving to be a bit of a nightmare of a job. I cleaned them all
yesterday. I thought they were a dark sort of oyster colour of
"pearl" but when I saw all the bits of paint that just literally fell
off the glass beads by just being sat in warm soapy water, I realised
they were the normal creamy coloured pearls. They were just very
dirty and greasy. I had a feeling that the coating would all come off
as the damage was so extensive and they are very old. I’m hoping be
be able to knot them onto cotton thread temporarily, hang them up in
my garage and spray paint them with an etching primer then a
pearlised top coat. I may also do a clear coat over the top but I’m
not sure whether that would ruin the lustre. All being well and the
beads having been painted successfully, I then hope to knot them
onto silk and attach them to a new silver clasp which I’ll fabricate.

Oh incidentally, do you send your gemstones outside of the US? I
live in the UK and am thinking of purchasing some of your cabochons.
If you would ship to the UK, how much would shipping cost?

Many thanks.
Helen


#11

Helen, sometimes we find ourselves facing a huge project, which we
have inherited or for some crazy reason agreed to do, that will take
an insane amount of our time, and no matter what sort of wizardry we
employ, will result in something we could never be proud of. It’s the
old cliche, “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sows ear”.

I think you may be wise in admitting that even if it could be done,
it wouldn’t be anything anyone would want to wear. And chances are,
when the owner of this necklace asked you to get involved, she had no
idea what a huge project it would be.

I just don’t see any possible good result from your noble efforts.
If it were me, at this point I would suggest that the only solution
would be honest communication.


#12

Helen, I have learned that I don’t have to try to do every thing that
I am asked about, even when I kind of want to help the owner out. I
have been asked about or presented with many pieces done in silver
with broken out chip inlay, for example, and I have learned to say,
“I don’t do chip inlay.” It’s not like I couldn’t learn to do it and
buy the materials and equipment to do so, but hey, why would I ? Just
to make the owner happy? I do dislike seeing their disappointment,
since I am quite sure that no one else in my region will do it
either, but I can live with it. I have lots of my own kinds of
projects in mind, and limited time for them, as it is.

My personal opinion from what you have told us about these beads is
that they are worn out, and should be kept in a box as a memento. If
any of them at all are still intact, you could offer to make a little
something out of them for her. Earrings, a little necklace with a few
of them front & center, or whatever. The spray painting will, IMHO,
be a disaster. If the coatings are thick enough to cover, a meniscus
will form between the beads, making a mess of the strand. Let it go!
The owner probably has no concept of just what a bad idea this is.

M’lou


#13

Hi - sorry I can’t address you by name as your name doesn’t appear.

I am beginning to wish I had done just that, ie. told my
mother-in-law that what she wants is not possible. However, if I tell
her that she will want it back in the state in which she gave it to
me - a very dirty, smelly and broken necklace. I didn’t feel as
though I could turn it down as both she and my father-in-law stressed
that it was the only thing she had left which belonged to her late
mother. Unfortunately, all it is now is a jar of clean glass beads
with no coating on them!

My in-laws are both also convinced that they are genuine, expensive
pearls even though I have told them that they are faux pearls and
that you could see more of the glass underneath than any coating that
happened to be there. They’re lovely people but they are the kind
that will believe what they want to believe, no matter what you tell
them so when it’s done, they will proudly tell people that they are
high class, genuine freshwater pearls - I tell you, these little
oysters are clever things - I never realised they could manufacture
glass beads and paint them too! :wink: You’re absolutely right when you
say they have no idea what a huge project it will be. I think they
envisaged me threading a needle and just restringing them, but they
were in no state to be worn - my M-I-L would have been covered with
little greasy bits of paint! Because of the enormity of the project
I decided to do a journal of the whole process, complete with step by
step photographs so that they can see just what a colossal
undertaking the job is. Then maybe next time I go and visit, they’ll
think twice before asking me to fix some piece of hideous costume
jewellery - either that or offer to pay me for it!

This evening’s task is to get my Vernier calliper out and measure
every single bead and sort them, so that I can divide them up and
graduate them. It really is one of those jobs I really would rather
not be doing. Thanks for the advice though and I know you’re right.

Helen
UK


#14
I am beginning to wish I had done just that, ie. told my
mother-in-law that what she wants is not possible. [snip]
Unfortunately, all it is now is a jar of clean glass beads with no
coating on them! 

I have a suggestion that would be tough to do, but would virtually
guarantee you won’t be asked to do another similar job.

Give them back.

Show your MIL the jar of beads, tell her this is how they look after
cleaning with gentle soap, maybe offer to go ahead and restring
them. Say nothing about them being faux, be oblivious to the change
in their appearance.

The very last thing that makes sense to do (IMHO) is paint them.
They’ll never look the way they originally did. If they’re going to
be totally changed, it might as well be a lower-work disaster as a
laborious one.

If she asks, tell her the truth-- that the dirt was the only thing
holding the coating on. But only if she asks.

The deeper you get in, the worse it’s gonna get, believe me.

Noel


#15
temporarily string and knot them onto cotton thread and hang them
up, spray them with an auto etching primer, then a pearlised auto
spray paint in the appropriate colour 

If you are going to try painting them do not string and knot them
beforehand.

Find yourself some relatively stiff solid wire that fits the hole.
Either a light press fit or use something like sticky wax(sparingly!
don’t get any on the outside surface of the pearl, it will prevent
adhesion) to hold them from rotating on the wire. Space them apart
about an inch or so. Make a handle of sorts on the end of the wire.
In this way you will be able to rotate the ‘strand’ for even
application of the spraypaint. Pearl paints need constant shaking to
keep the tiny metal particles in suspension. So shake yer booty alot.
Use the lightest of coats, let dry between.

Once you’re happy with the coverage let them dry a good long time.

If you just pull them off the wire the paint may flake at the holes.
To prevent this run a scalpel or razor blade around the wire at the
hole, Cut the wire on one side of the ‘pearl’ and gently pull the
pearl off. You may have to scrape the paint off the wire before hand
to avoid binding.

A lot to go through but since you asked.


#16

Thanks for your email, but unfortunately I can’t let it go. My in-
laws are VERY, VERY pushy and I’ve already committed to it. There
are sadly, none left to do anything with. I cleaned them by putting
them in a container of hot soapy water and every bit of paint just
floated up to the top. That’s how fragile the coating was!!! So at
the moment, all I have is a jar of clear glass beads - but clean
glass beads.

The spray painting will, IMHO, be a disaster. If the coatings are
thick enough to cover, a meniscus will form between the beads,
making a mess of the strand. 

I don’t think this will be the case, because I’m going to knot them
onto cotton (which is flexile) with gaps in between all the beads so
that they will be easily removed afterwards. My husband and I
renovated an old motorbike back in the day when we were bikers and
we got a fair bit of experience priming and spraying the panels.
That’s why the auto paint idea popped into my head, having done it
before. I’ve had a few suggestions from people about using nail
polish, but a) when I wear nail polish, it starts to chip after two
days - it’s just not durable enough, b) I’ve got too many beads to
hand paint with a brush - apart from the fact that brush painting
always gives a rougher finish than spray painting, and d) IMO auto
paint is far more durable as it has to hold up to the elements and
you can’t scratch a car with your fingernail, but you can chip nail
polish that way, so if the painting is successful, my M-I-L will be
able to wear the necklace for many years to come, without the paint
chipping off (it will be painting over etching primer which will
ensure that the paint sticks to the glass). Auto paint also comes in
every possible colour and can be dissolved in the paint thinner we
bought for auto paint.

As for the owner not knowing what is involved. You’re absolutely
right. She has NO idea whatsoever. She envisages me threading a
needle and restringing them. That’s why I’ve started a journal, with
a step by step commentary on the whole project, with photographs
along the way. That way she will know exactly what was involved and
hopefully appreciate it a little more. I’m also hoping that because
of the journal, they will think twice before asking me to fix the
next piece of worthless paste costume jewellery - or that they will
actually offer to pay me. I’m rather hoping it’s the former
suggestion!

I plan to make a new clasp for it out of silver as the old base
metal clasp has seen better days. It’s a project. It’s experience and
I’ll learn from it, just as I learn from everything else I attempt.
If it works really well, the auto paint solution may be something
that others may want to try if they are faced with a similar job on
faux pearls so I’ll report back to the group. I may well turn the
journal into a blog too.

Many thanks for the advice though and I do wish I was able to turn
it down.

Helen
UK


#17

Hi Noel,

I have a suggestion that would be tough to do, but would virtually
guarantee you won't be asked to do another similar job. 

I know, I know, you’re right I should do just that. I submitted the
post the other day, asking for suggestions, in the hope that someone
on the list had previously repainted faux pearls and that there may
be some good suggestions. I planned to wait until I received the
replies but in the end I cleaned them. As soon as I’d cleaned them
and they were sans their coating, I thought to myself that I’d
probably bitten off more than I could chew and that I should have
just turned the job down. However, I’ve now gone too far to go back
and I don’t think I can make things much worse than they already are.

I’ve got a few other things to finish first and a jewellery fair to
go to but will attempt the next phase of the project later on next
week. I’ll report back to the group as to how it went, and hopefully
I’ll never be asked to attempt such a project again.

Helen
UK


#18

Thanks for your brilliant advice Neil.

The idea of wire is a really good one.

Make a handle of sorts on the end of the wire. In this way you will
be able to rotate the 'strand' for even application of the
spraypaint. Pearl paints need constant shaking to keep the tiny
metal particles in suspension. So shake yer booty alot. Use the
lightest of coats, let dry between. 

I’m familiar with spray painting as hubby and I renovated an old
motorbike when we both used to ride motorbikes and so we had to
respray the panels. It was very satisfying actually. Lots of very
thin coats which were allowed to dry in between and yes those little
particles do like to sink to the bottom. I’m convinced the auto
paint will be more durable than nail polish though as it’s made to
withstand the elements and nail polish chips after two days of wear!

To prevent this run a scalpel or razor blade around the wire at
the hole, 

I was trying to get my head round this potential problem so the
scalpel will do a good job. My daughter’s doing art at college and
has a few. I do think your wire idea is better than my idea of
stringing them up on cotton.

If it doesn’t work then she’s no worse off - well apart from the
fact that she will no longer have a box full of dirty worn out beads

  • so it’s fingers crossed that it does work! All being well it’ll go
    okay and she’ll have a wearable necklace that won’t leave dirty bits
    of paint all over her neck.

Thanks for the excellent advice Neil.

Helen
UK


#19

Helen,

I keep reading this thread, and I just see you digging yourself in
deeper and deeper. At the risk of playing armchair psychologist, it
seems that you’re dealing with a woman who believes what she wants to
believe. I’ll bet that when you show her the process you went through
to “restore” her “pearls”, there is a very good chance that she is
going to resent you for popping her bubble of fantasy, and I can’t
state this strongly enough: you will be blamed. It seems clear that
you don’t want to tell her the truth at this point, because she
doesn’t want to hear the truth. Believe me, she won’t want to hear
it later either. She will resent you for turning her real pearls into
painted glass.

You said in an earlier post, that no matter what, she will believe
that they are real pearls, and will wear them.

Now, if you’re are certain that that is the case, and since you have
already missed the chance to turn down the job in the first place, it
seems to me that you have two choices:

You could show her the glass beads now, and tell her exactly what
has happened, and show her your documented evidence. If you go
further, with the painting project, it looks as if you’re somehow
covering up your own mistake, which you are not.

Option two is simply giving her what she wants. You could buy a
bunch of cheap “pearls”, same size, same amount, string them with
your new hand made clasp, which will give her great bragging rights
about her talented daughter-in-law. Now if you want to include some
of Grandma’s pearls in the new necklace, just for the sake of
posterity (and ease your conscience a bit), you could possibly paint
some of the original beads silver or some color, and insert them
either next to the clasp, or incorporate them into the clasp. Your
MIL will be pleased, but never be the wiser. You and your husband
will have a nice family secret, and a bowl full of Grandma’s glass
beads, which you will always share a giggle about.

Full disclosure is absolutely the most important ethical quality a
jeweler can and must have. But when we are dealing with relatives,
and especially M’sIL-in-denial, you just have to do what you have to
do. There are times when sparing someone’s feelings is the most
important thing. The rules don’t always apply to all situations.

Consider the cost tuition.

I wish you the best, and do keep us informed.

Tess


#20

Hello again Helen,

This has been an interesting ongoing saga! So much good advice…
can you stand a little more??!

In the interest of your sanity and good relations with your MIL, may
I make a suggestion. It will save you much time and the cost is
comparatively small! I’m afraid that the effort to restore the beads
will become a nightmare, so let’s avoid it altogether.

Find a decent source of freshwater pearls that are similar to the
sizes of the glass beads - surely Orchidians can offer sources in the
UK. You will make up a replica of the original necklace using them
and your newly constructed clasp, and string the naked glass beads as
a memento, using the original clasp. (You can practice the knotting
on the glass beads.) Gift your MIL with both necklaces. One is for
sentiment (showing your respect for the memory of a mother) and the
other is out of affection for her. How could she be anything but
charmed!

I really think you’ve had enough of an “experience” with this whole
thing! Of course you know your MIL best, and can determine whether
or not this concept will satisfy her.

Judy in Kansas, who is heading to Tucson - looking forward to the
Orchid Dinner.