Are my pearls real or not?
There are a number of ways to tell if your pearl(s) are real or not, Follow these steps below to determine if its real or not.
- Color: The most valuable pearls are white with a rose overtone.
- Surface thickness: The thickness of the nacre, the substance that is deposited on the bead when it is placed in an oyster is important. A thick nacre is the best and to test it hold a strand of pearls next to a bright light. If it has a thin nacre, the pearls will blink at you.
- Luster: This is what gives the pearl a striking appearance. The thicker the nacre the better the luster.
- Shape: Perfectly round pearls are the most coveted. Baroque or semi-baroque shaped pearls, meaning slightly out of round to substantially out of round, can be relatively inexpensive. If you roll pearls on a flat surface, you can see if they are slightly elliptical or not quite perfectly round.
- The Tooth Test: To find out if a pearl is real, lightly rub it against the front of your tooth — not against the edge, which can scratch the pearl. If natural or cultured, rather than simulated, the pearl should feel gritty.
- The Friction Test: Look for two things–friction and powdery residue. Real pearls will have a bit of friction when rubbed together (meaning you’ll feel some resistance when you rub the pearls together), as nacre is not perfectly smooth. Nacre layers, when rubbed together, will also leave a powdery residue behind. If neither of these things occur, your pearls are not real. If the pearls feel smooth and frictionless when rubbed together, they are most likely not real.
- Examine the Pearl’s Surface: Real pearls look like they have scales when placed under a microscope. You could also say that they look maze-like, rather than scaly like a fish. Genuine pearls are composed of platelets made of a calcium carbonate solution known as nacre. The platelets are laid upon one another in a hexagonal pattern, like bricks. This gives a pearl its scaly or maze-like appearance. A fake pearl will have a grainy, speckled surface when put under the microscope. There will be no distinct pattern and it will look bumpy.
- NOTE: You might damage your pearls when using the tooth, friction, or drill hole tests. Be careful when performing a tooth test on an individual pearl. Keep a firm grasp on the pearl to avoid accidentally swallowing it.
Thinking of buying pearl jewelry? Have a family heirloom made of pearl? A few simple tests can help you determine whether your pearl item is a fake or the “real deal” in a matter of minutes. Learn how to look and feel for the signs of a real pearl today and you’ll never need to worry about falling for imitations again.
Look for minor imperfections. As noted above, real pearls are only rarely “perfect”. Usually, they’ll have small blemishes or irregularities in their shape. Their outer nacre layer may also reflect light differently on different parts of the pearl. Imitation pearls are almost always “too perfect” — they look perfectly spherical, they have the same amount of luster on every part of the surface, and show no indents or imperfections. While perfectly round real pearls are rare but possible, a necklace will almost never be made only from these types of pearls. A necklace made from pearls that all seem to be exactly the same smooth, round shape is almost certainly a fake.
- One problem with this test is that low-quality real pearls (which generally have a dull, “chalky” luster) can look similar to fake pearls. Check your results with a few of the other tests in this article.
- Since some real pearls don’t have a visible overtone, not seeing an overtone on your pearl isn’t necessarily a sure sign that it’s fake.
- Well-defined edges to the hole. Real pearls usually have drill holes with sharp edges (like a hollow cylinder). Fakes often have rough or rounded edges. However, old and well-worn real pearls may also have rounded edges to their holes. Fake pearls may also bow outward at the surface of the pearl, rather than being perfectly cylindrical.
- Chipped paint or coating around the hole. As fake pearls rub against each other with repeated use, their artificial coating can wear away around the holes. You may be able to see slivers of glass or plastic underneath. This is a sure sign of a fake.
Look in the hole for a line between the nacre and nucleus. A real pearl almost always has a clear outer nacre layer, while fake pearls have thin layers of artificial nacre or lack them entirely. If your pearl has a drill hole, you can check for nacre by peering in with a magnifying glass. Real pearls will usually (but not always) have a noticeable line that separates the nacre from the nucleus (the inside part of the pearl).
Don’t fall for imitation pearls sold with exotic names. If a seller is trying to sell you on a pearl’s name rather than its physical qualities, you may be getting ripped off. For example, “Mallorca” (or “Majorca”) pearls, which are named after the exotic Mediterranean island of Mallorca but are entirely man-made, are sometimes sold to unsuspecting costumers.
- As a general rule, you’ll only want to buy pearls from licensed, certified jewelers and pearl retailers. Buying pearls from street vendors or pawn shops can be a risky proposition. See our pearl-buying guide for specific tips.
Check for “scaly” surface patterning with a microscope. You can use a 30x jeweler’s loupe, but microscopes with 64-power magnification or more work best for this. The surfaces of real pearls have a maze-like, scaled pattern. This patterning looks a little like a topographical map. It’s this microscopic scaling that give real pearls their “gritty” texture. By contrast, fake pearls will often have a surface covered with grainy, fairly regular bumps (a little like the cratered surface of the moon).
- Use common sense about the sorts of tests you do with the certified real pearls. For example, you won’t want to try the tooth test or the friction test with someone else’s precious stones.
Get your pearls appraised by an expert. If you are having a hard time determining your pearl’s authenticity, you can always take your pearl to a reputable jeweler or gemologist. These professionals have the tools, training, and expert eyes to tell whether your pearl is real (and, if it is real, how high its quality is). However, these options often don’t come cheap — a basic appraisal can easily cost more than $100
Try ordering an X-radiograph test. This test, which an expert may do to determine whether your pearls are real or not uses an X-ray machine. Real pearls will show up as a semitransparent grey color on the X-ray. Fakes will be solid white on the negative and solid black on the positive print.
Try ordering a refractometer test. This advanced test measures how much light passes through the pearl to determine its authenticity. Pearls usually have a refractometer reading (called a “refractive index”) of between 1.530 and 1.685. The difference between these two values (0.155) is called the pearl’s birefringence, which affects the way the pearl looks in the light. These qualities tell an expert that the pearl is most likely a real one.
- You may want to brush your teeth before attempting this test to make sure they’re clean. Food residue from a recent meal can give false results.
Rub the pearls against each other. Hold a few pearls in your fingers and gently rub them against each other. Feel for the slight sensation of friction. Real pearls will usually generate a little friction when they rub against each other because their outer layers of nacre are not perfectly smooth. Fake pearls, on the other hand, often have smooth coatings and will usually glide past each other when rubbed together. Take a close look at your hands after this test. When two pearls rub against each other, their outer layers often erode a small amount. If you notice a fine, powdery, white residue after rubbing your pearls, this is probably powdered nacre — a sign that the pearls are real.
Check whether the pearls are perfectly round. Because they’re products of nature, every real pearl is slightly different, just like snowflakes or fingerprints. Most pearls won’t be perfect spheres — they’ll usually be slightly oblong or have minor defects. If your pearls look perfectly round to you, there’s a good chance they’re artificial.
- It is possible for real pearls to be perfectly round. However, examples of these are very rare and usually fetch a high price.
- Not sure whether a pearl is perfectly round or not? Try carefully rolling it on a flat surface. Imperfect pearls won’t consistently roll in a straight line.
- Plastic pearls, on the other hand, will be about room temperature and will warm up more quickly.
- Note: Good-quality fake glass pearls may still give the “cool” sensation. Verify your results with other tests if this is the first one you’ve attempted.
- For obvious reasons, this test isn’t perfect — judging the weight of a few small pearls can be tricky. For best results, you may want to compare your pearls with a set you know are real or fake. Always verify with another test no matter how sure you are of a pearl’s weight.