Pearls have been worn for centuries. In the first century B.C., women in Rome would sew pearls onto their dresses and couches, whereas noble men would put strands of pearls around their horses’ necks. Pearls were also at the forefront of the conflict between Cleopatra and Marc Antony, and have made appearances in religious texts in the Arab world as well. Today, pearl jewelry is still highly sought after by women all over the world.
Pearls are very valuable—that is, if they are real. If you are interested in buying pearl jewelry, it’s important to know how to tell if a pearl is authentic or not. Here’s how to tell the difference between fake and real pearls:
Size and Symmetry
Fake pearls will all look exactly the same, whereas real pearls will have slight variations in their size and symmetry. This is because real pearls are formed in nature, so it’s normal for them to have a few imperfections. However, high quality pearls only have slight imperfections, so they may be difficult to spot.
The shine, or luster, of a pearl is what makes it so unique. Real pearls have a bright luster, so they should clearly shine when exposed to light. If the pearl is dull, it’s fake.
But, this is not the best test to use to determine if a pearl is authentic. Some fake pearls are designed to look just as shiny as real pearls. Fake shiny pearls often have a cloudy shine, whereas real pearls have a clear shine, however it’s difficult for the untrained eye to distinguish between the two.
Hold the pearls in your hand to feel their weight. Fake pearls are typically light, so you should not feel a significant amount of weight in your hand. However, real pearls have a bit of weight to them, so if they feel heavier than you expected, they are most likely real.
A hole must be drilled into each pearl in order to create certain pieces of jewelry, such as necklaces. Closely examine the pearls in question to look for the drill hole. If the pearl is real, there should be a ring around the drill hole. If there isn’t a ring around the drill hole, chances are that the pearl is fake. You can double check by looking at the edges of the hole. Real pearls will have clean and well-defined edges, whereas fake pearls often have rough edges.
You may also notice chipped paint around the drill hole of a fake pearl. This occurs when the fake pearls begin to rub against each other and wear away the paint that is used to make these beads look real.
The Bite Test
The final step in determining whether or not a pearl is real or fake is performing the bite test. Put the pearl in between your top and bottom teeth and gently bite down onto it. You also have the option of gently rubbing the pearl against the outside of your teeth. Either way, pay attention to how it feels when the pearl makes contact with your teeth. The surface of real pearls is made out of nacre, which has a gritty feel to it. Therefore, if it feels like sandpaper rubbing against your teeth, this means the pearl is real.
Hold the pearls in your hand so you can easily feel their temperature. Fake pearls will usually remain at room temperature, whereas real pearls will not. A real pearl should feel slightly cool to the touch at first, and slowly start to warm up when held in your hand.
As you can see, there are plenty of ways to quickly tell if a pearl is real or fake. But, if you’re shopping for pearl jewelry, you will need to learn much more about pearls before making a purchase.
How Do Pearls Form?
Many people know that pearls form inside oysters, but few are aware of how and why they develop. The process begins when a foreign substance sneaks into the oyster and irritates the mantle, which is the part of the oyster that produces its shell. The oyster immediately attempts to protect itself from the foreign substance by covering it in layers upon layers of nacre. Therefore, a pearl is simply a foreign substance that is covered in multiple layers of nacre.
Cultured vs. Natural Pearls
Real pearls are classified as either cultured or natural. Both types of pearls grow in the same way inside oysters. However, natural pearls are those that are found growing naturally in the wild without any help from humans. On the other hand, a cultured pearl is grown on a pearl farm with human intervention. On these farms, mollusks are grown until they have developed enough to grow pearls. Then, a technician will surgically implant a bead and place the mollusk into the water to allow the pearl formation process to begin.
Most natural pearls have been harvested, so it is rare to see these sold in retailers today. If you do find a natural pearl, be prepared to pay a premium price for it.
Saltwater vs. Freshwater Pearls
Real pearls are also classified as saltwater or freshwater pearls depending on the environment they formed in. Freshwater pearls form in freshwater lakes, rivers, and ponds that are located primarily in China. Most freshwater pearls are white, however they come in a wide variety of sizes and colors.
There are several types of saltwater pearls, including the akoya, which is known as the most classic pearl. Akoya pearls are grown in Japan and China and are highly sought after due to their luster and somewhat pinkish color. The oyster that produces this type of pearl can only be cultivated once. As a result, akoya pearls are some of the most expensive pearls available.
Another type of saltwater pearl is the South Sea pearl, which grow inside gold-lipped oysters. South Sea pearls, which are produced in Australia, Indonesia, and areas of the Philippines, are the largest in size of all pearls. Whereas akoya pearls are usually between 6-8 mm, South Sea pearls are typically between 10-15 mm. Most South Sea pearls are white, however there are some with a slight golden hue that sell at a higher price.
The final type of saltwater pearl is the Tahitian pearl. Despite its name, this pearl is not solely grown in Tahiti, although the island is one of the largest producers. Tahitian pearls are often referred to as black pearls because of their gray color. Each pearl has a unique gray hue with beautiful undertones of yellow, silver, blue, and pink, which explains why these pearls are so popular.
How to Judge the Quality of Real Pearls
If you are interested in purchasing pearl jewelry, it’s important to know how to assess the quality of a pearl. Start by examining its size. Similar to other gemstones, the size of the pearl can affect its value. In general, larger pearls are worth more than smaller ones.
Take a look at the surface of the pearl, too. A pearl that does not have bumps, cracks, or spots is worth more than one that does have these imperfections. The shape of the pearl is important as well. Most real pearls are not perfectly round, but the closer they are to this shape, the more valuable they are.
A pearl’s luster is what makes this gemstone so unique, so this is an important factor to assess. Ideally, a pearl should have a bright luster. In fact, you should be able to see your reflection on the surface of the pearl. If your reflection is not visible, this indicates that the pearl is of low quality.
How to Care For Real Pearl Jewelry
Learning how to care for your pearls is the key to preserving their beauty. Harsh chemicals found in makeup, cleaning products, and hair styling products can damage pearls, so it’s best to put them away before using these items. Pearls are also sensitive to the chemicals found in your body’s sweat. To prevent damage, use a soft cloth to wipe down your pearls after taking them off for the day.
The silk threads that hold strands of pearls together can weaken when exposed to water, extreme temperatures, or direct sunlight. For this reason, it is best to limit your exposure to these environmental conditions when wearing a pearl necklace.
If your pearls become visibly dirty, use a damp soft cloth to remove dirt, oil, and other debris on their surface. You can also dip the soft cloth into a solution of warm water and mild soap to remove deeper stains. Be sure to let the pearls dry completely before putting them back in storage.
Now, you have the information you need to start your search for the perfect piece of pearl jewelry. Whether it is a single strand of pearls, pearl stud earrings, or a delicate pearl bracelet, the timeless piece you decide on will always be in style!