15 Ways to Identify a Real Pearl

Pearls are amazing; a jewel naturally produced over months or years by a living creature.  The selections available to consumers is now more than ever, extensive, with a vast array of colours, shapes, sizes and styles.  It’s not surprising that it might be difficult to distinguish between a fake and real pearl.

There are however 15 easy ways to identify a real pearl:

  1. Pearls are like fingerprints or eyes, no two are ever the same.  As they are naturally occurring, each pearl is unique, with swirls, indents, blemishes, ridges, size and lustre all combining together to give a pearl its distinctive characteristics.
  2. Pearls come in all different shapes.  Even if you purchase a necklace of round pearls, there will be variations between each pearl.  Some will slightly flatter while others might be slightly oblong.  A set of truly uniform and perfect pearls is incredibly rare and will cost hundreds of thousands.  Fake pearls will be uniformly the same.
  3. Real pearls are cool to the touch, warming up slightly from being worn for a while or by being handled.  Fake pearls will generally always feel warm to the touch.
  4. A set of real pearls will feel weighty and substantial and feel like solid.  Fake pearls may also be heavy if they are glass, but other types of fake pearls will be light and without substance.
  5. Rubbing real pearls together will feel slightly gritty, which is due to the imperfections rubbing against each other.  This process will also produce a small amount of pearl dust (this won’t harm your pearls).  Fake pearls will easily slide over each other with no resistance.
  6. The sound produced by real pearls is also distinctive, producing a warmer and softer sound, compared to the fakes which will be tinny and thin sounding.
  7. Rubbing pearls lightly against your teeth will feel gritty and you’ll be able to hear the grainy surface.  The same test against fake pearls will be smooth and easily slide over your teeth.
  8. If you’re able to closely inspect the pearls with a magnifying glass you’ll see that they contain a grain, similar to a wood, imitation pearls, on the other hand, may look rugged and similar to eggshell.

Caution: the following methods may damage pearls if not carried out by a professional

  1. If you scrape the surface of a peal with a knife a small amount of pearl dust will be produced. The same action on a fake pearl will feel smooth and may expose the glass or plastic bead.
  2. Holding a pearl to a flame for a few seconds should produce no adverse effects, extending the burning time may cause popping sounds.  A fake pearl will blacken and produce a bad burning smell.
  3. Dropping a pearl from around half a metre on a glass pane will cause the pearl to rebound to around 30cm.  A fake pearl will rebound much less.
  4. Putting a pearl into acetone solution will not affect the pearls lustre or shine.  The same test on a fake pearl will cause it to lose its shine.
  5. A real pearl will dissolve in hydrochloric acid while a fake pearl will be unaffected.
  6. A genuine pearl is semi-transparent the whole way through.  An imitation pearl will most likely only be transparent at the very top layer.
  7. Buying from a reputable pearl dealer is an assured way of getting a genuine product.

So what is a Fake Pearl and what is a Real Pearl?

A real pearl is produced by a mollusc in response to a foreign body or irritant.  The mollusc responds by coating the irritant in a substance called nacre, over time this nacre builds up and produces a pearl.  Real pearls can either be cultured or wild, with wild pearls being extremely rare and environmentally speaking a bit of a grey area.  We certainly don’t want thousands of wild molluscs opened up for the chance of finding one wild pearl.  Cultured pearls, on the other hand, are produced by intentionally introducing a foreign body into a mollusc, in some cases, a single mollusc can produce several pearls at a time and does not necessarily need to be killed to retrieve them.  The best-cultured pearls are produced in the best water conditions, so it works for the pearl farmers advantage to work to keep the environment clean and safe for molluscs.

A fake pearl can be made using one of several methods.

  • A hollow glass bead is filled with paraffin.  These are quite light and unsubstantial.
  • A solid milky glass bead is soaked in a special pearl liquid to give the impression of a pearl.
  • Similar to the above but instead of a glass bead, a plastic bead is used instead.
  • Polished shells are very similar to pearls, but under a strong light, it’s possible to see the horizontal stripes of the shells nacre.
  • Powdered shells mixed with an adhesive and used to coat a bead.

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