Differentiating a real pearl from an imitation pearl is not the prerogative of jewelers! With knowledge and a little practice, it is possible to recognize a real pearl in a few minutes. A few basic tests can help you avoid a scam or know the true value of the pearl necklace you received as a gift or heirloom. Follow wikiHow's advice on how to identify a real pearl.
Method 1 of 4: Observe the visual properties of the pearl
Step 1. Detect imperfections
The real perfect pearl is very rare. In general, it has irregularities in shape or color. Moreover, depending on its properties, the surface of the pearl reflects light differently depending on how you expose it. Conversely, a faux pearl is perfectly spherical, smooth and opaque to light.
Even though real pearls can have a spherical and regular shape, it is practically impossible for a necklace to be made only of perfect pearls. If you are going to buy a piece of jewelry with all the pearls of the exact same gauge and appearance, be wary. It can be imitation pearls or a mixture of real and fake pearls
Step 2. Examine the luster of the pearl
In jewelry, the brilliance or luster of a gem refers to its way of reflecting light. This is an important parameter in estimating its value. A quality pearl should have a sheer luster and shine in the light. Looking closely at the pearl's surface, you should see your own reflection in it.
A faux pearl has no luster or is too opaque to have a changing luster like a real pearl. However, some imitations are done well enough to be brilliant. Conversely, genuine pearls with a low luster can be mistaken for imitations. Cross the results of the different tests to be sure of the nature of your pearl
Step 3. Examine the color
By its natural process of creation, the color of a pearl is the result of a tangle of nuances. It is made up of three levels of complexity. Every pearl has a basic color, the palette of which goes from white to black. This dominant shade is embellished with lines, which are translucent shades projecting onto the basic color and creating an optical effect independent of the luster. The lines of pink or ivory color are the most sought after when the pearl is white. Finally, the orient is a property defined by the presence of iridescent and changing reflections on the surface of the gem. This natural complexity is difficult to reproduce, which makes it possible to recognize an imitation.
It should be noted that all real pearls do not necessarily have an orientation or even features. Nevertheless, if the pearl examined has a clear color and without nuances, it is surely an imitation
Step 4. Look for clues at the bit hole
In general, pearls are pierced to be strung or mounted on a piece of jewelry. The hole thus made can allow you to distinguish a real pearl from a fake.
- Examine the edges of the bit hole. When it comes to a real pearl, these are crisp and precise, forming a perfect cylinder. In contrast, they are more rounded and coarse in the case of an imitation pearl. However, this rule is not absolute, as the edges can be dull or jagged if the pearl, even genuine, is old or often worn.
- If the color is chipped around the hole, it is probably a dummy coating. The rubbing of the pearls against each other wears down their surface layer and reveals the underlying glass or plastic. This definitely means that your pearls are fake.
Step 5. Observe the internal structure of the bead through the hole of the drill
Take a magnifying glass. In general, a pearl consists of a nucleus (or nucleus) around which the layer of mother-of-pearl is formed. These two parts are separated by a line visible with a magnifying glass. Be aware that freshwater pearls do not have cores. However, if the internal structure is completely uniform or if the different layers of material are visible, then the bead is most likely fake.
Method 2 of 4: Observe the physical properties of the pearl
Step 1. Perform a rub test against your teeth
Take the bead between your thumb and forefinger. Rub it for a few seconds against your incisors with a gentle and regular movement. A real pearl has a slightly rough or sandy surface due to its natural creation. By scraping it against your tooth, you should feel small imperfections. On the contrary, a faux pearl sports an absolutely smooth surface, as it is made of glass or plastic.
Obviously, your teeth should be clean and free of any food or drink residue. Otherwise, the test may be biased. If necessary, brush your teeth beforehand. Also, make sure the pearl is clean
Step 2. Rub two pearls together
Make a light movement for a few seconds. Genuine pearls consist of a layer of mother-of-pearl whose surface irregularities are a sign of natural creation. If you feel any resistance when rubbing the pearls together, then they are probably genuine. On the other hand, if they slide perfectly against each other, you can conclude that they are wrong. Indeed, the imitation pearls are covered with a polished coating and without roughness.
The friction of the pearls between them slightly erodes their surface. The mother-of-pearl then disperses in the form of a fine whitish powder. The presence of this residue on your hands is a sign of authenticity
Step 3. Study the shape of the pearl
Like a snowflake or a fingerprint, each bead is unique. Resulting from a natural process, it has a slightly oblong or irregular shape. If your pearl seems perfectly round to you, it is likely that it is fake.
- Know that a real pearl can have a perfect spherical shape. However, it is very rare and therefore extremely expensive.
- To determine the shape of the pearl, roll it on a flat surface. If its path is not straight, it means that it is irregular.
Step 4. Make sure the bead is cool
For this test, make sure the beads have not been worn or handled recently. If necessary, leave them in the open air without touching them. Then take them in the palm of your hand and estimate their temperature. The pearls should be particularly cold before they adjust to your skin temperature. The feeling is the same as if you were walking barefoot on a marble floor!
- Plastic imitation pearls are at room temperature even before you touch them.
- Note: know that some imitation pearls are designed in a specific glass which reproduces the feeling of cold in the hand. But they heat up less quickly than real pearls. The temperature test is therefore to be coupled with the others.
Step 5. Estimate the weight of the pearl
To do this, carefully bounce one or two beads in your hand. The weight of a real pearl is significant while that of an imitation pearl is negligible, especially if it is made of plastic. If you can barely feel the pearl you are holding in your hand, it is probably fake.
However, the weight test is approximate. Indeed, it is relatively difficult to estimate the weight of small pearls. It is therefore recommended that you have a sample of pearls that you are sure are true (or fake) so that you can compare. Despite everything, note that this test is relative and is not enough to determine on its own the nature of a pearl
Method 3 of 4: Use advanced testing
Step 1. Observe your pearl under the microscope
This will allow you to better understand why a real pearl can be recognized by its grainy texture. A magnification of 30 times may be sufficient, but it is best to opt for a magnification greater than 64 times. The surface of an authentic pearl is not smooth. Depending on the importance of the defects, you may observe a sort of network, comparable to a topographic map.
Faux pearls have a smooth surface. However, their coating can sometimes have defects. But these are too regular to be natural
Step 2. Compare your pearls to gems of certified authenticity
The tests presented in this article will be more convincing if you have a reference. Get pearls from a jeweler, friend, or your own jewelry box for comparison. Either way, make sure they are genuine.
Obviously, you cannot perform friction tests on a piece of jewelry that does not belong to you. In this case, just do the other tests
Step 3. Have your pearls appraised by an expert
If you have difficulty authenticating your pearl, present it to a jeweler or gemologist. These professionals have the appropriate tools and are trained to identify real gems. It will be easy for them to know if your pearl is real and to estimate its value. However, this type of service can be expensive and its price is usually set on a case-by-case basis.
Step 4. For more complex specimens, request an x-ray
The observation of a pearl under X-rays makes it possible to identify with certainty its nature. Only a professional will know how to correctly interpret an X-ray, but it is good to know the basics. A structure with multiple levels of gray reveals density differences between the core and the mother-of-pearl layer, which means the pearl is true. On the contrary, a totally white photograph on a negative (or black on a positive print) indicates that the pearl is fake.
Step 5. Have a refractometer test done
This is to measure the amount of light that passes through the bead. The refractive index of a bead is between 1.530 and 1.685. The difference between these two values is called birefringence, which is the property of a material to split the light passing through it. A real pearl can have a strong birefringence (0, 155), which gives it special optical properties. These will allow an expert to determine the authenticity of your pearl.
Method 4 of 4: Take precautions
Step 1. Combine the results of different tests
As reported throughout the article, imitation pearls are getting closer and closer to real pearls. Therefore, you should never rely on the result of a single test. You can indeed take a real pearl for a fake and vice versa.
For example, real pearls can be polished to be mounted on jewelry pieces. Their surface is then smooth and without any defect. In rubbing tests, you may mistakenly assume that these are imitation pearls
Step 2. Avoid the fire test
Some suggest holding the pearl over a flame and watching its reaction. Since a real gem is insensitive to heat, any visible alteration would mean that the tested pearl is fake. However, the reality is more complex. Most imitation pearls are indeed heat affected, but real ones can be too. Treated pearls are the most vulnerable since exposure to fire for a few seconds can damage them irreparably: appearance of stains, deformation of the drill hole, disappearance of the luster, etc.
In addition, the pearl heats up quickly on contact with a heat source. Not only is this test unnecessary, it is also dangerous for you. It is therefore absolutely inadvisable to attempt it
Step 3. Don't be fooled by the names given to pearls
If a salesperson is bragging about a pearl on their name rather than their qualities, they are likely to be an imitation. For example, the so-called Mallorcan pearls are actually imitation pearls made from a mixture of fish scales and glues. Yet their exotic-sounding name can fool many buyers.
Step 4. Assess the value for money
The value of a pearl varies according to a large number of parameters: size, shape, color, luster, thickness of the mother-of-pearl… However, even entry-level cultured pearls have a certain price. For example, a necklace of freshwater pearls (the cheapest variety of cultured pearls) costs a minimum of a hundred dollars. If the offer sounds too good to you, beware.
As a rule, it is safer to acquire pearls from reputable jewelry or jewelry houses. Licensed pearl dealers can also offer you quality gems. However, avoid street vendors or pawn shops. Follow wikiHow's advice for knowing cultured pearls
- There are two varieties of real pearls: cultured pearls and natural pearls which come from seashells collected in nature. There are variations between these two types of pearls affecting the color, mother of pearl, luster and shape. Natural pearls are more expensive and rarer than cultured pearls.
- If a layer comes off when you rub two pearls together, they are fake. If they remain intact, they are true.
- To clean real pearls, see an experienced jeweler. Certain household products can damage your pearls forever. Some jewelers can clean them without risk.
- While performing the tooth rub test, although it may seem obvious to you, hold your pearl firmly to avoid accidentally swallowing it.
- If you scratch the surface of your pearl during testing, rub it with your thumb to remove any micro-scratches.