Restringing Pearls, Part II

In Part I of this series, we outlined the benefits of pearl restringing and discussed how you can start your restringing service. In Part II, we’ll show you how to restring pearls using the Tri-Cord Knotter method. (Part III will lead you through the traditional tweezers-and-awl method.)

You’ll need the following tools and supplies:

  • A Tri-Cord Knotter

  • Fine-tipped precision scissors

  • Diamond-plated bead reamer or a pearl drill.

  • Silk bead cord. The most common sizes are #3, #4, and #5, but you should have an assortment on hand. If a customer wants a slightly longer or shorter strand, you can use a smaller or larger cord to adjust the knot size, which will slightly shorten or lengthen the finished strand. You can also try different cord sizes to see which is the most appropriate for the pearl.

  • French wire (bullion). Not a necessity but recommended for protecting the cord at the point of attachment to the clasp. It also makes a nicer finish at the ends of the strand where there’s a transition from pearls to clasp, adding an aesthetic touch your customers will appreciate.

  • Beading boards. They’re useful for protecting the pearls as you work and crucial for keeping the pearls in order, especially if you’re restringing a graduated strand. They also help reduce eyestrain.

  • Clasps. Suggesting a different clasp is an opportunity for an add-on sale. Keep a variety on hand in different metals and karat values.

  • Jeweler’s cement or glue.Note: Never use instant glue or any cyanoacrylate glue. Cyanoacrylates crystallize over time, causing stringing cords to break. They also leave an unattractive finish.

Preliminary Steps

  • Wash your hands and keep them clean throughout the restringing process. Skin oils and even small amounts of dirt will darken the cord and leave grubby-looking knots.

  • Clean your work area and keep it clutter-free throughout the restringing process.

  • Gently clean the strand using mild soap (such as Ivory) and warm water. If possible—for example, if the strand is already relatively clean—use warm water only. Note: Never use an ultrasonic cleaner.

  • Inspect the pearls. If you’re restringing a strand that isn’t graduated, you have an opportunity to make the finished strand look even better. Usually, the most worn pearls are in the back—i.e., at the ends.

  • Stretch the new silk cord. Silk is a natural fiber and will stretch over time, leaving gaps. If you gently tug and stretch the cord before stringing, the finished strand will hold its strength and beauty far longer.

  • Remove the worn pearl cord. Using the fine-tipped precision scissors, clip the cord at the knots. Maintain the pearl order on your bead board unless you wish to change it.

Prepare the Beginning and Ending Pearls

For a more professional appearance, begin and end your strand with French wire (also called “bullion”), an extremely fine-gauge base-metal wire that’s wound into lengths of coil. Because it’s very fine, it crushes and uncoils if mishandled. French wire is available in several diameters to match a variety of cord sizes.

If the strand you’re restringing did not already use bullion, you will need to expand the holes in the first and last three pearls of the strand to accommodate a double thickness of cord.

  1. If using a hand reamer:
    a) While holding the pearl in one hand, insert the reamer into the pearl hole and gently twist your hands back and forth, removing material from inside the pearl hole.
    b) Periodically wipe off the diamond tip to clear removed material.
    c) Alternate sides to ensure an even opening through the pearl.
    Widen the hole until you can see .25 in. or more of the reamer tip out the other end of the pearl as it sits
    on the long, thin pearl reamer. Note: If the hole is widened too much, the pearl will slip over the knot, so check the hole size often. If the hole is too big, use a double knot.

  2. If you’re using an electric pearl reamer:
    a) Use an even back-and-forth motion with the drill tip in the hole. If you insert and hold the tip in place, the hole will widen unevenly and ineffectively. Drill in from both sides and check periodically to see if the hole will accommodate two passes of the pearl cord. (As with the hand reamer, check hole size often; if the hole is too big, use a double knot.) Caution: When reaming pearls by this method, it’s critical that you either work in a cooling water bath or sufficiently lubricate the diamond to protect both the diamond coating and the pearl surface. Remember, diamond reaming tools are sharp. Use care when handling them to avoid injury and damage to materials. Use appropriate protection, especially safety glasses, when using any power tools. Note: Applying too much pressure with an electric pearl reamer will break the pearl. Practice drilling pearls with an electric pearl reamer before you begin work on a customer’s piece.

Select the Cord

We highly recommend carded silk, especially when you use French bullion. The needle is already attached to a single cord thickness, eliminating the necessity of using a smaller cord to get extra thicknesses of cord through your pearls. Note: If you’re not using carded silk, you’ll have to fit extra thicknesses of cord through each pearl to accommodate the threaded needle. (See Fig. 1.)

Cord size is determined by the hole size of the pearls. Select a cord that will fit easily but snugly through your pearls. Too fine a cord will leave pearls with unattractive “wiggle room” on the finished strand. Too heavy a cord will be difficult to string and will leave pearls rigid on the strand and unable to create a smooth drape.

String the Beginning Clasp

  1. Tie a single overhand knot in the unfinished end. Try to leave only about in. of excess cord after the knot, as this eventually will be cut off.

  2. String on the first three reamed pearls.

  3. Carefully cut two pieces of French wire, each ¼in. to 3/8 in. long. Use a very sharp cutter to prevent damage or uncoiling.

  4. Use the needle to pick up one piece of French wire from the work surface. Store the second piece on your beading board until you’re ready to string on the ending second half of your clasp.

  5. Holding the piece of French wire with the pads of your thumb and forefinger, ease the coil over the connection between the needle and thread.

  6. String on the beginning half of your clasp. If you’re using a safety clasp with a fishhook, don’t use the hook part of the clasp at the beginning of your strand; the hook will cause tangles as you work.

  7. Move the third pearl about 1½in. to 2 in. away from the first and second pearls.

  8. String the needle back through the third pearl. Note how the French wire begins to loop as you finish pulling the cord back through the third pearl. As the coil loops, the clasp should naturally seat itself within the loop. This looped coil protects the cord from fraying and creates a professional appearance. (See Fig. 2.)

  9. Tie one overhand knot snugly against the third pearl.

  10. String the needle through the middle pearl (as you did through the third pearl) and tie another overhand knot against the pearl.

  11. String through the first pearl (as you did the third and middle pearls) but don’t tie a knot. This will be where you make your first knot with the Tri-Cord Knotter.

String the Pearls

  1. String on the rest of your pearls, except the last three reamed pearls that will finish the strand. Place the pearls on the new strand in the same order you have laid them out on your beading board. Note: Be sure to position the next pearl before creating another knot. If you forget, you’ll have two beautiful, tight knots next to one another in your strand, and the knot will be difficult to remove. You’ll have to take the strand apart and begin again on a new length of cord.

  2. If a long strand of knotted pearls becomes unmanageable, try dropping the strung pearls into your lap when you make your loops.

  3. Continue until you’ve made a knot after the last pearl on the string (except for the remaining three reamed pearls).

Knotting With the Tri-Cord Knotter

While stringing, hold the Tri-Cord Knotter in your predominant hand with the thumb lever facing you, and use your thumb to work the lever up and let it down. Practice moving the index finger of your right hand along the awl to the tip. You’ll be doing this for each knot to keep the cord from slipping off the tool and leaving a knot where you don’t want one. The awl is sharp, so be careful not to prick your finger.

At first, you may want to set the Knotter down between knots. Once you get proficient, however, you probably won’t need to, and this will increase stringing speed. As you string, you’ll be working with the last 18 in. or so of your cord, from the point where your reamed pearls are knotted. Hold the excess cord in your left hand with your ring finger and little finger closed over the cord to keep it out of your way. Work away from yourself while making loops and using your Knotter—never work a sharp tool toward your body.

The following steps are for a right-handed stringer.

  1. Hold the beginning of the strand (where the reamed pearls are strung) in your right hand and loop them over the top of the index and middle fingers of your left hand. (See Fig. 3.)

  2. Go all the way around once, then drop the clasp end of the strand down through the loop you’ve created over your fingers (drop from the knuckle side down toward your fingertips). This creates an overhand knot. Making your loops this way keeps the cord from twisting and interfering with the Knotter.

  3. Pick up the Knotter in your right hand; working away from yourself, catch the loop with the awl part of the Knotter as shown in Fig. 4.

  4. Still holding the cord with the ring finger and little finger of your left hand, drop your left hand out and place the index finger of your right hand onto the awl to keep the knot from slipping off.

  5. Holding the Knotter at waist height (and pointed away from you) with your finger still on the side of the awl, pull up with your left hand to move the knot close. If you’ve created your overhand knot without a twist in it, this should be effortless. If pulling the cord feels choppy, if the cord frays as you pull, or if it feels as though you’re pulling hard with little progress, remove and untie the knot and drop the cord to remove the twist. Try the loop again.

  6. As you pull the string taut, the awl will move the knot into position close to the pearl.

  7. Release the cord with your left hand and grasp it again closer to the awl.

  8. Move the cord you’re holding in your left hand into the V-notch of the post behind the awl. Keep the cord taut with your left hand but don’t pull it down or over—the

  9. V-notch may have a rough edge that could fray the cord. (See Fig. 5.)

  10. As you’re putting pressure on the cord with your left hand, the knot will travel about halfway up the awl. (The awl may bend toward the V-notch a bit.) This positions the knot very close to the pearl. This knot will be very close to the first knot you tied (to hold the three reamed beads in place on the strand). Try to maneuver this knot closer to the pearl than that first knot is. The first knot will be clipped off later.

  11. Maintain pressure with your left hand and remove your right index finger from the awl.

  12. Push up on the thumb lever and fully extend your right thumb. One smooth, complete motion will move the knot up and off the awl. Because you’re still exerting pressure with your left hand, the knot tightens against the pearl as it’s released. This creates a knot that’s tight, close, and uniform.

  13. Repeat steps 1 through 11 until all pearls are knotted except for the three reamed ones.

String the Ending Clasp

  1. String on the remaining three reamed pearls.

  2. String on the second length of French wire.

  3. String on the remaining half of your clasp.
    You won’t have the luxury of the extra cord space that you had when you began. Adjust the last three pearls on the cord to allow only enough slack for the knots between the last two pearls.

  4. String the needle back through the third pearl (as you did when you began the strand). Keep these beads as tight as possible. (See Fig. 6.)

  5. Pull carefully to create the loop with French wire.

  6. Make sure the clasp is properly seated within the loop.

  7. Tie one overhand knot snugly against the third pearl.

  8. String the needle through the middle pearl and tie another knot.

  9. String the needle through the first pearl and do not tie a knot. Simply clip the string close to the pearl, taking care not to cut the main string.

  10. Clip the 1-in. tail and its knot from the beginning of the strand.

  11. Place a tiny dot of Jeweler’s Cement on each of the three knots at both ends of the strand. When the glue is completely dry, the strand is complete.