Daily Wire Tip Aug. 9: Proper Care of Pearls and Opals

By on August 8, 2010
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Daily Wire Jewelry Making Tip
August 9, 2010


What does “dehydrated” mean when it comes to certain types of semi-precious stones and pearls?

-Lorraine in Alamosa, Colorado


The pearl is one of my favorite gemstones, and is also one of my birthstones, so I pride myself on knowing a bit about this gem!

White Potato Freshwater Pearls

Pearls are a natural material that are formed when an irritant finds its way into a living oyster. The oyster protects itself by coating this intruder with a secretion called nacre. This is, in fact, the same material the oyster uses to grow its shell. The irritant becomes trapped within the coating, and over time, becomes what we call a pearl. When pearls are stored in very hot, very dry conditions, the moisture evaporates out of the nacre, causing the pearl to lose its luster/shine, change and dull its color, and the outer covering of the nacre will crack. Sadly, there really is no easy way to restore a damaged pearl. The best storage for pearls is in silk where air can circulate and pearls can “breathe.” You can read more about this organic gemstone in the article, For the Love of Pearls.

Mosaic Triplet Opal

On the other hand, opals are filled with water. Solid opals prefer to be stored in a plastic bag with a damp cotton ball for extended periods of time. Opal doublets or triplets do not need to be stored damp; rather, direct exposure to liquids for long periods of time can cause the layers to separate and a foggy appearance will occur. Solid opals stored in very dry, very hot conditions, will dry out (dehydrate), causing them to crack and craze. All opals should be kept in padded pouches when not worn to protect them from being scratched by other jewelry.

Answer contributed by Dale “Cougar” Armstrong

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  1. avatar

    Patricia Whitlow

    August 9, 2010 at 8:03 am

    Interesting and very informative.

  2. avatar


    August 9, 2010 at 8:59 am

    Dale, once again you supply me with just the right advice when i need it. Yesterday my sil showed me some pearls that belonged to her mother, she passed away and left them to her. They were beautiful and appraised out at $50,000. She is keeping them in a plastic baggie in her safe…..now i can tell her the proper way to store them is in silk. We don’t want them to loose the beautiful luster they have or crack and loose their value….thanks BeBe

  3. avatar

    Connie Bonn

    August 9, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    I thought you might find the following interesting, although you may already know about it. We had a very low tide one day on the Oregon Coast and the beds of salt water mussels were there for the taking, that is if you are able to break them away from the rock. Nature has provided the mussels an incredibly strong glue in order to adhere to rocks and the constant tides. I shucked the muscles when returning home. Lo and behold! Each mussel had a tiny pearl inside! I still have some of them. The largest was around 4mm and most were 2-3mm. No one I’ve ever told this story to has come across pearls in mussels! The dictionary refers to fresh water mussels…..but there is no mention of the salt water mullosk.

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  5. avatar

    Kathleen Bianchi

    August 11, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    I recieved a silk (and cardboard) foldable necklace holder when I purchased my pearls. I am sure they can be purchased through a jewelry store, or an on line jewelry supplier. This foldable holder has silken sides that fold in on the necklace, and a snap to close, which still allows the pearls to breathe and completely protects them from scratching on anything including themselves.

  6. avatar


    August 13, 2010 at 2:09 am

    I am resubmitting my comment to correct my mistakes in my typing. When I purchased my first opals about 15 years ago I bought them from a jeweler who makes his jewelry from opal rough. He advised me to store my opal when they are not being worn in distilled water. He said it keeps the stones hydrated and improves the colors of the opals. I have done what he advised for the last 15 years and my opals are absolutely beautiful, in fact they have more colors to them then they had when I purchased them. I bought one stone that was almost white and after storing it in the distilled water it has more colors than I ever imagined, it has, red, blue, green, yellow, and lavender. I have shown my Opals to jewelers and they have told me that they are absolutely beautiful.

    Also I was told by a jeweler who sells mostly pearls to store them in open silk lined boxes or silk bags with open tops so the air can circulate. He said you can use a draw-string bag that is not tightly closed. I find that both ways work very well. My pearls seem to glow and, when I wear them they pick up moisture from the skin which makes them glow even more.

    I wish you had advice for jade because, I put oil on my jade so they do not dry out, it works great. Believe it or not sewing machine oil is one of the finest grades of oil you can use. I have used it on my hair with a heating cap for over 40 years and it is wonderful as well as on my jade pieces of jewelry.

    • avatar


      August 13, 2010 at 9:10 pm

      Lynne, thanks so very much for sharing your experiences that confirm how to care for opals and pearls. Yes, oil is the best for jade and jadeite. I have used virgin olive oil on my jade for years.