One of my most treasured possessions is a Tahitian pearl ring that I am extremely careful with. I only wear it on special occasions and at all other times it is kept in its box, separate from my other jewels, to preserve the lustre of the pearl. Am I being over-protective? Is it possible to wear a pearl ring every day without damaging it? Are pearl engagement rings actually a good idea? I knew who would be best able to answer these questions: the jewellers who work with pearls every day.
Pearls are ranked 2.5 on the Mohs hardness scale – a system developed to rank minerals according to their resistance to scratching, on a scale of one to 10. By comparison, diamonds, the most popular stone for engagement rings, score a perfect 10. Pearls are therefore substantially more susceptible to damage, which is something that anyone contemplating a pearl engagement ring should be aware of. “Pearls require a special type of care and certainly can’t be treated in the same way as a diamond engagement ring might be,” explains Michael Hakimian, CEO of Yoko London. “Our golden rule is that pearl jewellery should be the last thing you put on in the morning and the first thing you take off at night.”
The only gems created by a living creature, pearls begin their life when an irritant is inserted into an oyster’s shell. They grow slowly over time, with layer upon layer of nacre building up around the irritant until the pearl is fully formed. While they are relatively hard gems, the soft nacre coating on the exterior of a pearl is considered fragile, and it is this surface that it is important to protect. Without proper care, a pearl’s lustre – the shimmering brilliance that distinguishes a pearl from all other gems – may become scuffed, dulled or damaged.
As organic, all-natural gems, pearls are porous, which means you must remove your ring before swimming or sport, when applying products, such as hair spray, fragrance or hand soaps, or when using household chemicals. Hakimian recommends always taking your pearl engagement ring off when you wash your hands or shower. “This will ensure you avoid getting cosmetics, hair products and perfume on your pearl engagement ring,” he explains. “Following this rule will help you preserve your pearls’ lustre.” Hakimian also has some very clear rules when it comes to cleaning your ring. “Pearls should not be cleaned in water or with soap or detergent; this will do more harm than good,” he says. “The best way to keep pearls looking radiant is to wipe them gently with a clean, soft, dry cloth when necessary. This will remove any surface dirt, keeping the pearls’ lustre visible.” Even when you follow all of these precautions, pearls are prone to scratching when they come into contact with sharp, rough or hard surfaces, so it also essential that you to store them separately from any other jewellery.
While many people never take their engagement ring off, that just isn’t possible with pearls. Peggy Grosz, Senior Vice President of luxury pearl jeweller Assael, has some excellent advice for anyone who is considering a pearl engagement ring: “For thousands of years, the pristine pearl has held great meaning, ever since they were the first precious gem set into a piece of jewellery. I understand the allure of pearls as a symbol of lasting love. However, we do not recommend pearls in engagement rings if the bride feels that she would wear it on an everyday basis.” Emma Clarke from Mikimoto agrees. “Pearls are organic gemstones and are exceptionally cohesive and shock-resistant, but they are also vulnerable to acid, alkaline, extremes of humidity and can be easily scratched,” she acknowledges. “Mikimoto pearl rings are not recommended for everyday wear. However, if a customer chooses to, they need to understand that the nacre of the pearl can become damaged.”
If you are still wondering whether a pearl engagement ring is a good idea, first ask yourself a couple of questions. Do you want to wear your ring every day? Are you too busy to deal with the added maintenance that comes with owning a pearl engagement ring? If you answered yes to either of these questions, I would recommend looking for a more resilient gem (diamonds, sapphires and rubies all are all excellent, hard-wearing stones).