The string that binds us together: for some, it is family; for others, it is shared experience and cultural identity. For pearls, it is silk. While we have no record of when the first pearl necklace was strung, for thousands of years cultures have sought to festoon themselves in as many pearls as possible. But there was a problem. The lustrous gems, born of the sea and organically composed, are more fragile than gemstones and more susceptible to fracture and abuse. Something had to both bind the pearls together and keep them safely apart. Man turned to silk.
Pearl stringing is an art. Easy as tying knots may seem, great care and delicacy goes into each strand of pearls. Silk was strong enough to resist breakage, soft enough to caress a pearl without abrasion, and delicate enough to pass through minutely drilled holes. These days, synthetic fibers are often substituted for greater longevity, but the duties of the fiber are the same: keep the strand together while holding the pearls apart. And of course, look beautiful. One of the chief characteristics of a strand of pearls is uniformity – and that does not extend to simply the pearls themselves. The precision and exactness of each knot is an indicator of craftsmanship and value.
Silk may be dyed or come naturally in a range of hues. In fact, rarely would sterile white silk be asked to bind a strand together. More often, shades of cream, ochre, or slate (for Tahitian pearls) are used to complement the body color of the pearls. Another characteristic of silk is fluidity. Pearls seemingly drip from one to the next in harmonious progression. A freshly strung strand of pearls may appear slightly kinked when the knots are tightly bound, but the silk when worn will soon relax to accommodate a more fluid drape. This is also the reason that a newly strung pearl necklace, when all other factors are equal, will appear a touch shorter than an identical older necklace. The silk has not yet fully relaxed.
If a strand of pearls should break, knots placed between each pearl prevent the entire strand from running off and scattering about the floor. Additional care is given when separating pearls from diamonds, precious stones, or metal fittings, which can mar the pearl’s surface through friction. Thin wire filament is most often wrapped around the silk when it joins the strand to the clasp. This protects the silk and bolsters its strength in an area where it typically receives the most wear and tear. Apply cosmetics or perfumes close to the neck? The residue may be another reason to consider new silk. See a silk thread between the knot and pearl? Yes, it’s time.
A good rule of thumb is to have heavily-worn strands of pearls restrung annually, and occasionally-worn strands restrung every two years. This practice keeps the integrity and strength of the strand intact. Pricing is typically done per inch of necklace and is a quite affordable way of keeping your strand safe and lovely. If it’s time to restring your pearls, it’s also a good time to have them professionally cleaned. A pearl-focused jeweler like Spey will guide you through this process, keeping your strand of pearls secure and lustrous for another year of elegant occasions.