It’s not always easy to determine whether pearls are genuine or not. These days, real pearls come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colors, and 99% of them are ‘cultured’, which means that they are farmed by pearl farmers instead of being found wild in nature.
Cultured pearls are very much genuine pearls, as they are formed by an oyster and may take many years to develop. Pearl farmers encourage the pearls to grow by placing small objects inside the oyster, which irritate the soft tissue of the oyster and causes it to secrete a substance that hardens around the irritants in layers known as the nacre of the pearl. The shape of the pearl is determined by the shape of this ‘nucleus’, so cultured pearls can be round, flat, square, oval, coin shaped, or even shaped like hearts and crosses.
The color of the cultured pearl’s nacre may also be influenced by introducing natural dyes into the mussel during the pearl’s formation. Bold bright colors like peacock blue pearls and rich berry are not beyond the scope of natural pearls these days.
There are many fake pearls on the market as well, made from a range of different materials including glass, resin, or even shell which has been coated with a pearly outer layer. Some are quite realistic and may need a bit of investigation on your part to determine that they aren’t real pearls. The expert in this video discusses 7 ways to assess pearls to find out if they’re the real deal:
1.) Genuine pearls have ridged surfaces, like a fingerprint, that can be seen when you look very closely. Each pearl is different. Fake pearls tend to have smooth, uniform surfaces with no ridges at all.
2.) Genuine pearls have a lustrous overtone. Fake pearls are dull with a milky sort of color.
3.) Real pearls are highly reflective when held up to the light. Fake pearls have a dull surface and don’t reflect as much light as genuine pearls.
4.) Real pearls vary in size and shape. While a very expensive strand of real pearls may be nearly perfectly uniform, if you look closely you will probably see some slight variations from pearl to pearl. A strand of fake pearls will be completely uniform and all perfectly the same size and shape.
5.) Genuine pearls feel cold to the touch. They warm up to your body temperature when you hold them or wear them. Fake pearls remain at room temperature even when not being worn.
6.) Genuine pearls are much heavier than fake pearls. If a strand of large pearls seems very light, they may not be real.
7.) Genuine pearls have a gritty texture. Try rubbing one with your tooth to test the grit. You can also rub two pearls together to see if there is a bit of grit between them. Fake pearls will slide on the tooth or against one another.
Brandon Leibowitz says
This is all great info as I plan on purchasing pearls for my anniversary. I never knew there were so many fakes and that there were so many ways to tell the real pearls apart from the fake pearls. I am glad I read this before shopping otherwise I am sure I would have purchased a fake set of pearls. Thanks for this info Jessica!
Hi Brandon! I’m glad you found this information useful. I know it can be difficult to spot fake pearls and overwhelming at times when buying gifts for others. Congratulations on your upcoming anniversary! Pearls are always a good choice :)