How to Tell if Pearls Are Real

Real pearls come in all sizes and a variety of colors.

Pearls are one of the most exquisite gems ever produced by nature, and real pearls can be very valuable. However, fake, machine-made pearls have been available for years, so it’s important to know the main differences between real and imitation pearls. 

Distinction Between Natural and Cultured Pearls

Real pearls, whether cultured or natural, are a reaction to an irritant in a fresh-water or salt-water oyster. The pearl is a material the oyster secretes to cover the grain of sand or other irritants and provide a smooth surface the oyster can tolerate. Natural pearls are extremely rare and are not sold commercially. People often use the term ‘natural’ as a distinction between cultured pearls and fake ones. 

Imitation pearls are little more than manufactured beads. They’re commonly made from plastic, glass, alabaster, or shells with a pearlescent coating resembling real pearls. There is even a variety of imitation pearls, called a Majorica pearl, that are made from glass and can often fool buyers.  

How to Tell if Pearls Are Real or Not

Our buying guide will be a lesson in how to tell whether your pearls are real or not. We’ll tell you how to perform a series of simple tests that will expose the fake pearls from the genuine. The more pearls you’re exposed to, the easier it will become to pick out imitation pearls from the genuine articles.

a well-matched string of pearls is a thing of beauty.

Feel the Temperature

Real pearls tend to dissipate heat quickly. They should be cold when you first touch them and gradually warm up as you hold them. Plastic pearls generally have the same ambient temperature as the surroundings, and pearls made of glass can be cool, but they take longer to warm up. However, you shouldn’t rely on this test alone to discern glass pearls from real ones. 

Check the Shape

Real pearls are almost never perfectly spherical. The pearl industry has names for the shapes. They come in baroque (meaning irregular), teardrop, oval, coin, drop, and button shapes. Round or near-round pearls generally command higher prices. However, even these can show some small variances in shape. If you see strings of pearls that are identical in shape, it’s a good sign that they’re imitations.

Look for Irregularities in the Surface

Real pearls have tiny imperfections and variations in color, size and surface characteristics. If a string of pearls is perfectly uniform and has a flawless surface, they are probable imitations. 

Check the Drill Holes

Compare the drill holes in fake and real pearls. Jewelers often take pains to make the holes as small as they can in genuine pearls, and the surface surrounding the hole is usually unblemished. Under magnification, the drill holes of imitation pearls often show chipping and a flaked coating that can peel off over time.  

Look for a Gritty Texture

Both cultured and natural pearls have a textured, slightly gritty surface because of the nacre material that coats the surface. You can feel the texture when you rub a real pearl against your teeth or against another pearl. 

Inspect the Overtone

One of the reasons pearls became so valuable is because of their unique and delicate translucence that can reflect several different colors. You may notice pinks, rose colors, or greens when you hold a real pearl up to the light. A string of pearls that lack depth and translucence and are all exactly the same color are likely to be imitations. 

Compare the Weight

If you have an opportunity to do a head-to-head comparison of real pearls and fake plastic pearls of the same general size, it becomes apparent that the real pearls are heavier. If the comparison is made between real pearls and fake glass pearls, the real ones are lighter. Fake pearls rarely match the weight of real pearls. 

Visit Amorn Phuket Pearl

To get hands-on experience in learning how to tell if a pearl is real or not, visit our Amorn Phuket Pearl shop. Browse our showroom to see some of our iconic quality pearl necklaces, pendants and earrings. You can also take a longtail boat ride out to our floating pearl farm on the waters off Phuket to discover more about the farming process. Book your tour today and become an expert in pearls!

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