Abridged article shared with permission from Ingrid Webster, The Neverending Necklace
Why Did My Necklace Break?
15 Things You Should Know Before You Have Your Pearls Restrung
Iron Rule for Bead or Pearl Necklaces:
No matter which medium they are strung on, and no matter how well it has been done: your pearl or bead necklaces/bracelets/anklets WILL eventually break.
Why? They’re only held together by a thread, monofilament, wire or sometimes chain, limited to match the hole size of the smallest beads in your item.
Even the strongest thread is aging and getting weaker. By wearing your piece (which is what you should do), the string is exposed to abrasion from bead holes, body oils, cosmetics and simple wear-and-tear.
1.) Count your pearls
You should count your pearls in front of your jeweler when bringing them in for repair. Your jeweler should record the amount of pearls on the repair envelope and on your receipt.
This is an easy measure for your own security and peace of mind.
2.) If your necklace is knotted, it will come back shorter after restringing
Each and every string will stretch over time. That is especially true with knotted threads – whether they are silk, nylon or any other material.
If it’s done correctly, your necklace will be knotted very tight, to where no pearl (or bead) has room to move. Your necklace could even have a “wrinkled” look: that is a positive indication of tight knotting, but it will vanish with wearing and straighten itself out.
3.) If your necklace was unknotted and you want it knotted, it will come back longer
That’s only natural: the knots themselves add length to your strand.
4.) New is better than old: nylon is better than silk
Silk has been the first choice for stringing pearls over the past centuries. But that is only because nothing better was available at the time.
Nylon, or sometimes polyester, displays the very same knot as silk – if not even more beautifully. That modern string holds up better to body chemicals and cosmetics, and it won’t mind getting a gentle bath, either. *All Strung Out note – While I agree that nylon is usually the best choice, it is not my only choice. I work with both nylon and silk, determining which material is best suited for each individual job.
5.) If you have a multi-strand necklace, all strands should be restrung
Especially when “nested”, (the classic, tiered look) it is crucial to have all strands redone at the same time. Why?
Simply because when string ages, stretches and gets brittle, it does that on the entire necklace, not just the one strand that broke. Fixing just the one broken strand will mismatch the other strands in length and appearance: remember that they stretch over time, and a freshly knotted strand is shorter than before its repair.
6.) Graduated pearls don’t always give the best results
Very often, graduated pearls (or beads) differ not only in size, but also in the diameter of their holes. When that’s the case, it is almost impossible to achieve a perfectly restrung necklace, and the knots between the beads will appear to be uneven.
Explanation: When knotting pearls, the thickness of the string being used is determined by the diameter of the pearl hole. What may fit through a small hole may not yield a knot that’s large enough for the next bead. This smaller knot may slip into the inside of the hole, leaving an undesirable result.
7.) Don’t expect precious metal beads to be knotted
Or knots next to any metal bead, for that matter.
Precious metal beads are hollow and have very thin walls. Over time and due to more or less frequent wearing, the knot next to the precious metal bead will inevitably work itself into the inside of the metal bead, tearing the bead wall on the way in and therefore successfully destroying it.
8.) Never add gold/silver beads where they can touch your pearls.
Metal beads, especially precious metals (yes, that includes all Karat Gold) tend to leave black marks that encircle the hole of the pearls.
The surface of a pearl is much rougher than you would expect, even though it is on a microscopic level. Over time and with the movement while the necklace is worn, the pearls abrade the metal beads and the metal “stains” your pearls. These stains are difficult if not impossible to remove, because the tiny metal abrasions penetrate the surface of the pearl.
(Author’s note: “Yes, I know, high Karat gold next to pearls is an irresistible combination, even for me…”)
9.) Wire is not stronger than thread
All wires, thread, string, cord, monofilament, even chain, do eventually break. There simply is no stringing medium out there that will last indefinitely.
The smart bead and pearl repair person will have many specialty wires or threads, one of which has the right properties for your specific jewelry item and its needs. But all of them will eventually break, especially if your piece contains beads with sharp edged holes or rough insides.
Be prepared to have your pearl and bead jewelry restrung occasionally in order to maintain its value.
10.) There is no such thing as double-knotting
Even if you could make double knots (as in: two knots) to look perfectly pretty and pleasing, they would have absolutely no purpose. Think about it. Two knots do not make the necklace stronger. Double knots won’t influence the size of thread that’s used for a particular repair, and it’s not that the necklace breaks because of weak knots, but because the string is worn and aged and brittle and maybe frayed. *All Strung Out note – I do not ever make two knots in a row, but I have found a way to double-loop my knots which results in larger single knots. There are occasions when a thicker thread will not fit through the drill holes of the pearls or beads, and single knots are not large enough. When this happens I use my double-looped knots, which look great, but do take considerably more time and effort to make.
11.) Why should you have your pearls knotted, anyway?
For two simple reasons. One of them is protection, the other is beauty.
First the pragmatic side. If your knotted necklace breaks, you may lose one pearl, at the most.
As for the intrinsic value of knotting – there simply is no comparison to unknotted pearls. A knot will separate the pearls from one another and allow you to see more of their surface area. And a knotted pearl necklace has that soft, delicate look that we all so desire in a good strand of well-fitting pearls.
12.) Ask your jeweler to have your pearls size graded
Usually, strands of pearls are sold two ways: a particular size or graduated. Graduated pearls have obvious variations in their size, and they are strung to achieve the look that they were destined to display.
Any particular size strand will always contain pearls with sizes differing within half a millimeter, and the strand should be clearly marked that way. For example: a strand of pearls marked 7 to 7½ mm includes pearls of 7 mm in size to pearls of 7½ mm in size, as well as any size in between.
A well trained eye of a professional pearl stringer will ensure that your pearls are strung according to their size: the largest in the center, followed by the in-between sizes and the smallest ones on the back – next to the clasp. That is called “size graded”.
And insist on placing worn pearls on the back upon restringing, if at all possible.
13.) Not all pearl stringers are equal
As you may have understood by reading these informational hints, a good pearl stringer will protect and preserve your investment.
The best pearl stringers are those who specialize in just that and those who have worked with many different scenarios and a varied clientele.
14.) There are no shortcuts
That said, a necklace that has only one loose pearl needs to be cut open and restrung in its entirety. A broken string is a sure sign that the entire bead cord needs to be replaced.
15.) Get your pearls restrung BEFORE they break
That’s the part that YOU can do to prevent loss of pearls and hence costly repairs. Keep an eye on your necklace, with special attention to the string.
If it’s soiled, loose or frayed, bring it in for repair.
Keep your pearls clean and free of body oils. Just wipe with a baby wipe or a cloth moistened with sudsy water. Do NOT attempt immersing your pearls into your ultrasonic cleaner – they will get ruined beyond repair.
Store pearl and bead jewelry laying down rather than hanging; it reduces stretching and stress of the cord.
But above all: enjoy your pearls any opportunity you can!
– Ingrid Webster