Pearls are iridescent and beautiful, and it is only right that consumers know how to differentiate real pearls from imitation pearls or the fake ones. While there is certainly nothing wrong with wearing imitation pearls, you wouldn’t want to encounter or even buy one when you are out on the prowl for genuine pearls. You may end up buying fakes while paying full price for a set of imitation pearls.
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Ways to Test If a Pearl is Real or Fake
There are two main methods of testing pearls if they are fake or not, and that is through a visual test and a touch test.
Much of the fake pearls in the market today originate from China, where they are manufactured using a variety of materials, including plastics and glasses. Non-genuine pearls have different names, like faux pearls, Mallorca pearls, imitation, etc. Some manufacturers also use the tag “imitation pearls” and “synthetics” to describe their products.
Again, we do not mind that there are imitation pearls in the market; we just want to educate people, so they do not end up buying fake pearls when they go out to buy the genuine article.
Imitation pearls are still fictional – they are used extensively in costume jewelry and also in crafts projects where pearl beads improve the aesthetic of the said projects. Below are some necessary tests that will help you understand if what you are buying is the genuine article, or not.
Visual Test on Pearl
The first visual test is for luster. The majority of pearls, whether cultured or not, have a natural luster that scintillates in the light. The pearl will naturally express light that strikes it.
While pearls will have some imperfections because that is how they were formed by nature, this doesn’t mean that they won’t be lustrous. When you hold up a pearl to the light, it would appear that it is radiating light from within.
Imitation pearls, on the other hand, will have some shine because coatings may be added to plastic so that it would reflect some light, but what you will see will be different.
A coated imitation pearl will have a minimal light reflection, while those that have zero coatings will be dull throughout and will not show any luster at all. Surface shine does not automatically qualify a pearl as genuine – it has to have an unmistakable natural luster that is consistent throughout its surface.
The next visual test is for uniformity. This is likely the biggest giveaway when you are looking at a set of pearls. We are going to let you in on a little secret: pearls are not and will never be perfectly uniform. Pearls are harvested from different mollusks (in the case of freshwater cultured pearls) and oysters (as in the case of pearls harvested from the sea of saltwater pearl farms).
Many pearls come out in teardrop shape or even oval. These are natural imperfections, and while it is true that the market considers perfectly round beads as highly-prized, the little natural defects, on the whole, do not dramatically reduce the value of pearls.
Imitation pearls will appear perfectly round and entirely consistent every time.
So when someone offers you pearls and indicates that they are perfectly round, each pearl, and there is an unnatural perfection of symmetry in the set, you are likely holding a set of fake or imitation pearls.
Perfectly round “pearls” are only possible with a plastic mold and machines cutting and polishing the pearls, because that is what computers do – they reproduce things perfectly, each time.
So visually will look perfect, while the genuine pearls will be naturally imperfect – as they should be.
The third visual test concerns the color qualities of pearls. This is another interesting angle that you should be aware of when inspecting pearls. Like how the pearls are formed (their shape), the colors of pearls also vary subtly across sets of pearls.
For example, an entire set of pearls can be technically white, but you will be able to see subtle variations as you inspect the pearls on the whole. Some pearls will be yellower, some whiter, and so on.
These imperfections are part of the package of buying genuine pearls. On the other hand, if you see a set of pearls that have reasonably consistent color (or just one color throughout the collection of pearls), then you may be looking at imitation pearls or faux pearls.
The fourth visual test can be done with a microscope. If you place real pearls under a microscope, you will see a surface texture that is more similar to eggshells. The surface texture of genuine pearls features a natural graininess that is not found in smoothened plastic pearls. Under a microscope, the most beautiful pearls look rough and rugged.
Touch Test on Pearl
When you are done with the visual test, it’s time for the touch test. Hold the pearls that you are examining with your hands and check the weight. Fake pearls will be ultra-light because they are made from plastic or glass, which are very light materials.
An alternate touch test involves rubbing the pearls on your teeth. Surprisingly, pearls are not entirely smooth when you rub them against your teeth. You will detect a sandpaper-like texture because the nacre is not altogether flat. Nacre or mother of pearl is an organic substance that mollusks and oysters secrete in response to a foreign body being inside their gonads.
The third touch test requires gently rubbing two pieces of pearls. When you rub two genuine pearls together, you will get a powder-like substance as the dried nacre is released from the pearls.
Faux pearls made of synthetic substances will not shed any nacre powder when you rub two pearls together. When you knock two genuine pearls together, you will create a soft sound as natural pearls are made up of soft material. Plastic pearls, on the other hand, will barely produce any sound because the content is synthetic and is so light.