How to Clean Pearl and Opal Jewelry?

September 19th, 2022

Pearls and opals create beautiful one-of-kind valuable, and sentimental jewelry pieces. However, because their chemical composition differs from other common gems, things like pearl and opal rings and necklaces have unique vulnerabilities to damage and require special care.

Learn how to clean these exquisite gems so you can preserve the longevity of your treasured gemstone jewelry collection. 

What Makes Pearl and Opal Jewelry Unique?

Most gems form in the earth’s crust, shaped by millions of years of heat and pressure. However, a mollusk like an oyster, clam, or mussel is required to create a natural pearl

When an irritant or bit of debris enters a mollusk’s soft tissue, the animal excretes layers of a material called nacre to surround the foreign object. Made of organically-secreted aragonite, this nacre is exceptionally strong and is responsible for giving the resulting pearl its sheen. Natural pearls from mollusks are incredibly rare; however, a large pearl farming industry has developed, making artificial pearls more accessible.

Like most gems, opals are found in the earth’s crust; however, what makes a pure opal valuable is its range of spectral colors. While common opal (potch) is generally opaque and brownish or gray, precious opals boast every color on the visible spectrum, something even diamonds can’t do.

Precious opals contain tiny spheres of silica dioxide, which stack in regular layers to create lattices that diffract white light. The largest spheres refract red light while the smaller spheres produce violet opal. 

At least 95% of opals found by miners are common, uncolored opals. Precious opals are much rarer, making opal jewelry expensive.

Can Pearl and Opal Jewelry Be Damaged?

Pearl jewelry requires special care because your pearl’s soft surface can easily get damaged. Household cleaners, hair care products, and perfumes are particularly harmful to pearls. 

To preserve your pearls, make your pearl jewelry the last item you put on when dressing, and never apply hairspray or perfume after donning a pearl necklace. 

Do not store your pearl jewelry in a plastic bag or container because certain plastics can cause the pearl’s surface to deteriorate. Ultra dry storage conditions can also cause your pearl pieces to yellow, fracture, and dry out. 

opal ring

Opals are more fragile than many other gemstones, rating only a 5.5 on the Mohs Hardness scale. So, avoiding activities where your opal jewelry can come into contact with a hard surface when wearing the piece is crucial. However, most opals are very stable and will not crack.

Water does not damage solid opals, but prolonged water exposure can damage doublet and triplet opals (opal veneers glued to a base like obsidian.A triplet opal also has a clear cap)

How to Clean Pearl and Opal Jewelry

Regular cleaning at home can help preserve the longevity and luster of your pearl and opal jewelry pieces. Aim to clean your opal jewelry every two months to remove dirt and oils. Many people choose to fully clean their pearl pieces after every wear, though a rub-down with a dry jewelry cloth is often sufficient. 

Here are the supplies: 

  • Warm water
  • A lint-free cloth
  • Q-tip
  • Dish soap (such as dawn)
  • Microfiber towel 

Here are the steps:

To clean your piece, make a solution of warm water and soap. Then dampen the cloth with the solution and gently wipe your pearl and opal jewelry. Using a soft cloth helps ensure you do not damage your piece. You can dampen a Q-tip or soft toothbrush to access any harder-to-reach spots.

Do not submerge pearl necklaces into the water mixture as it may weaken the silk thread. Never clean pearl jewelry with an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner which can damage the pearl’s outer layer. 

After thoroughly cleaning, rinse your piece and allow it to completely air dry on top of a microfiber towel before storing. Plan to take your pearl and opal jewelry to your jeweler for a professional cleaning at least once a year.

young woman with an elegant pearl jewelry necklace

Protect Your Pearl and Opal Jewelry with BriteCo™

Go beyond just a jewelry box with BriteCo™. We offer exceptional jewelry insurance coverage at affordable costs. Insuring your collection is more convenient than ever, with no deductible and a manageable monthly or annual payment option.

BriteCo™ replaces up to 125% of the value of your previous jewelry pieces and covers jewelry loss, theft, damage, and mysterious disappearance. 

With BriteCo™’s worldwide coverage, your collection is protected wherever you travel, so you can wear your finest pieces confidently across the globe. 

Our Check Your Price tool allows you to get a quote in minutes. Contact us and speak with a representative instantly.

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About the Author

Rachel Akmakjian is Director of Jeweler Relations for BriteCo. She has more than eight years’ experience in jewelry marketing, retail, diamond wholesale, and managing her own company that specializes in creating custom jewelry pieces. Rachel is currently a student at the Gemological Institute of America, on track to receive her Graduate Gemology certificate by the end of this year. Her education and experiences have given her an in-depth understanding of the demands and expectations facing jewelers and customers in today’s evolving retail marketplace.
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