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How To Tell If Pearls Are Real: The Top 10 Pro Tips

How To Tell If Pearls Are Real? The first time I saw a pearl, I was in love.

It was at my cousin’s wedding, and she was wearing a gorgeous necklace made of luscious, big, round, off-white pearls.

I just couldn’t take my eyes off that beauty.

How To Tell If Pearls Are Real: Female model wearing pearl necklaces

When I was old enough to wear pearl jewelry, I learned that there are all kinds of cheap imitations.

How do you tell if pearls are real? Well, I researched thoroughly and learned how to spot fake ones.

Fake pearls are everywhere these days, and they can look compelling. It’s a worry, because a pearl can be worth millions of dollars, but you may get a white-painted plastic or glass bead for the premium price.

Fortunately, there are some telltale signs you can use to determine whether or not your pearls are genuine.

Female model with pearl earrings
Image by Taylor Wright via Unsplash

Real vs. Fake Pearls: The Various Types

Both real and fake pearls are beautiful, but the latter type is sometimes better looking and more polished because of all the man-made tweaking.

But beauty doesn’t translate into value, so it’s necessary to distinguish them to know which one is worth your money.

I will explain various tests for how to tell if a pearl is real in the next section of this article.

In the meantime, take a peek into the fascinating variations of genuine and faux pearls:

How To Tell If Pearls Are Real: Fresh Water Pearl found in oyster

Types of Real Pearls

Both natural and cultured pearls are considered genuine, but their manufacturing processes are slightly different.

People only learned to culture pearls after the 1920s. Before that, all pearls were collected from their natural habitat.

Pearl Hoop Earrings in Sterling Silver
Image via Tiffany

a. Natural or wild pearls

You will find natural pearls in oysters and other mollusks.

Wild pearls are formed when an irritant, such as a grain of sand or a piece of shell, enters an oyster and irritates the mollusk’s tissue.

The oyster’s body will produce a substance called nacre to coat the irritant,a process which can make it several years before a pearl is formed.

Wild pearls are rare, and have a unique shape and color because they’ve been shaped by nature.

Freshwater Pearl Ring in Sterling Silver
Image via Tiffany – Freshwater Pearl Ring in Sterling Silver

b. Cultured freshwater pearls

The cultivation of cultured freshwater pearls takes place in bodies of water such as rivers and lakes.

They are created by placing several mollusk tissue pieces inside an oyster.

The nucleus will be coated with layers of nacre to form a pearl over time.

Since these pearls have tissue nuclei, they come in irregular shapes, including oval, baroque, button, etc.

How To Tell If Pearls Are Real: Pearls necklace on female model leg
Image by Gilbert Beltran via Unsplash

c. Cultured saltwater pearls

The cultivation process is similar to the cultured freshwater pearls. However, these pearls grow in saltwater, and a round bead nucleus is used to irritate the mollusk.

The oyster stimulates the production of nacre around the bead. For this reason, cultured saltwater pearls are usually round or near-round.

The cultivation takes place in particular ocean areas. Akoya, Tahitian and South Sea pearls are some popular and quite expensive cultured saltwater pearls.

 Pearl necklace with bezel diamond
Image by Jayden Brand via Unsplash

Types of Synthetic Pearls

Faux pearls are pretty and cheap. If you’re not a jewelry expert and all you want is something shiny to wear that won’t break the bank, preferring them over real ones makes complete sense.

These are the types of artificial pearls that are available:

How To Tell If Pearls Are Real: Pearls necklace on model hand with scissors
Image by Marinana JM via Unsplash

a. Waxed glass beads

These faux pearls are beautiful, but are nothing more than iridescent, round, glass pellets.

You will find cheap paraffin in their pearlescent dye-coated hollow core. The beads are lightweight, with a density of less than 1.5 g / mm3.

Mature female model wearing a pearl bracelet
Image by Cottonbro via Pexels

b. Solid glass beads or glass pearls

These faux pearls have a higher quality than many other cheap imitations. One single bead has around 30 to 40 layers of polished pearl essence.

Because of all the coatings and polishing, they can be heavier than natural pearls.

However, there are also fake glass beads where a synthetic blend, plastic, lacquer and other substances can replace the pearl essence.

How To Tell If Pearls Are Real: Pearl solitaire ring in sterling silver
Image by Marta Branco via Pexels

c. Fake plastic pearls

This faux pearl type is plastic beads coated with a synthetic blend, lacquer, plastic or other equally cheap material.

These faux pearls are very light, even lighter than waxed glass beads.

d. Imitation pearl beads

The composition of imitation pearl beads includes powder of shells, making their density similar to genuine pearls.

They have an excellent luster, but you can tell them apart from the real ones by putting them under intense light.

e. Shell powder synthetic beads

These are mollusk shell beads with powdered adhesive inside them. A mother of pearl exterior coating gives them a premium look.

Female model with long pearl necklace
Image by JJ Jordan via Unsplash

f. Fake Edison pearls

Genuine Edison pearls must be inside the mollusks for at least three years, but fake ones are sold after six months.

So, these pearls have pretty thin nacre coatings and get damaged easily. They look high-quality, but their color and luster fade within a year.

g. Swarovski pearls

These faux pearls have a Swarovski crystal instead of a glass or plastic bead as their core.

These pearls look close to genuine and have a higher quality than their cheap counterparts.

How To Tell If Pearls Are Real

How to Tell If Pearls Are Real: 10 Popular Methods and Pro Tips

Let’s face it: few things in this world are as precious (and expensive) as pearls.

But how do you tell if pearls are real or fake? How can you tell genuine pearls apart from their cheap imitators?

Well, there are many ways to do it. I will share with you the easiest ways to spot fake ones.

Female model holding multicolor pearl necklaces in her hands

How to Tell If Pearls Are Real: Tip #1, Touch and feel the temperature

Genuine pearls feel cold to the touch before warming up within a few seconds.

Beads made with resin and plastic will feel the same as the room temperature.

Glass bead pearls will feel cool to touch, but they take a little longer to warm up than the real ones.

How To Tell If Pearls Are Real: Pearl in shell
Image by Moritz320 via Pixabay

#2 Look for slight irregularities

Just like real diamonds, authentic pearls also have surface-level irregularities.

The surface is not smooth because of microscopic ridges and bumps. Even if all pearls in a strand look similar in shape and color, they will reveal some markings and dimples under a loupe.

In fact, ridges, running veins or blemishes are the signs of genuineness for jades and other gemstones.

Faux pearls have a shiny appearance with a smooth surface because of all the polishing that goes into making them.

Pearl necklaces
Image by TheAnnAnn via Pixabay

How to Tell If Pearls Are Real: Tip #3, Observe the shape

Genuine pearls are primarily available in five shapes:

  • Round
  • Oval
  • Tear-drop
  • Button-shaped
  • Baroque

However, perfectly round pearls are scarce, and the beads in a round pearl necklace won’t be identical in shape.

On the other hand, most fake pearls are round or oval-shaped, and all beads in a strand are likely to be identical.

You can do the rolling test to differentiate between authentic and artificial pearls.

Roll round pearls in a straight line on a smooth surface. If they are genuine, they are likely to tilt off course because of their slightly non-uniform shape.

Fake ones are likely to roll in a straight line.

Multicolor Tahitian Pearls Bracelet
Multicolor Tahitian Pearls Bracelet

#4 Check the color and overtones

Most pearls are available in white, with the real ones having a creamier shade.

Artificial pearls will have a yellowish tint or a gray-white shade. Irrespective of the color, natural pearls have an iridescent sheen, containing a hint of green or pink, on their outer surface.

Fake ones cannot produce that translucent overtone. However, some genuine pearls, especially those dyed in a different color, may also lack this overtone.

Wide Mother-of-pearl Wire Bracelet
Image via Tiffany

How to Tell If Pearls Are Real with Method: #5 Examine the shine

Genuine pearls are shinier and less reflective than fake beads, which display an unnatural luster.

They look exceptionally bright and radiant under a light. Artificial ones are reflective because their elements don’t absorb or scatter light well.

Hold a pearl under a light source in a way so the light falls on one side.

A natural pearl will create a rainbow-like color prism that appears to be coming from within.

The glow will look scintillating, however, a fake one will show nothing.

#6 Feel the weight

If you are still not convinced that your pearls are real, do the weight test.

It’s not a surefire way to single out the real ones, but you can at least be sure that your pearl necklace or bracelet is not made of plastic or resin beads.

Pearls are heavy for their size, and you can feel that weight even more by tossing them up gently and then catching them with your palm.

A similar-sized hollow glass, resin or plastic bead will feel much lighter.

The only fake pearls that are equally heavy are solid glass beads. They could be even heavier than the real ones.

Pearls necklace
Image by Security via Pixabay

How to Tell If Pearls Are Real with Method #7: Examine the knotting

Knotting the pearls is a challenging and time-consuming task that requires expertise. A strand of authentic pearls will have knots between every bead to prevent them from rubbing against each other.

Otherwise, the delicate pearl surface will wear out due to the constant friction.

Since fake pearls are cheap, jewelers don’t generally spend time and money knotting them.

However, high-quality imitations may have individual knotting to make them look real.

#8 Check the drill holes

The beads in pearl necklaces and bracelets have drill holes for stringing and knotting.

The holes in genuine pearls are kept small so the beads don’t lose much weight.

The heavier the pearls, the higher their price is.

Also, the drilling of genuine pearls is done from both sides for the holes to meet at the center.

Look into the holes, and you will see that the width is larger at the edges than in the middle.

The texture inside the holes will be clean and smooth. You may spot a little powdery element produced by the friction of the string.

Imitation pearls usually have bigger and uneven holes. The color inside won’t match the outside coating.

#9 Inspect the openings of drill holes

Use a high-quality magnifying glass to examine the drill hole openings. You are likely to spot flaking or the transparent texture of the inner side of the bead if the pearls are artificial.

They have a thin coating, and that is the reason for chipping. Genuine pearls won’t show any such flaking or peeling.

female model holding a pearl necklace in her mouth

#10 Rub the pearls against your teeth

Sounds weird? How do you tell if a pearl is real with a tooth test? Turns out it’s an easy test and gives an almost correct, if not foolproof, result.

Just rub the pearl lightly over your teeth. A genuine pearl is likely to feel grainy, but the fake ones will feel sleek or glassy.

The science behind this test is simple. Natural pearls accumulate numerous layers of nacre with slight irregularities.

The uneven texture feels granular against your teeth. Glass and other faux pearls will feel quite glassy and plasticky in this test.

However, this test is not a guaranteed way to determine a pearl’s authenticity.

Cultured pearls may feel smooth because they have fewer nacre coatings. An original dyed pearl will also feel the same because the dye fills in the indentations on the pearl’s surface.

African american model wearing pearl earrings

How to Tell If Pearls Are Real with A Surprising Method: #11, Hear your pearls

Like authentic gold, genuine pearls also create a unique sound when struck with other pearls.

You will need some loose pearls or a necklace to do this test. Hold them with both hands, shake them against each other, and hear the sound carefully.

Faux pearls will create a metallic, jingling sound, but the sound from real ones will be warm and soft.

How to Tell If Pearls are Real: DON’T Do These Tests

All the eleven test methods mentioned here are safe. They may not yield 100% correct results, but they don’t damage your pearls either.

Some professional methods will give a more accurate result, but you should not try them at home.

Avoid doing these tests, otherwise you may damage your precious gemstones:

Scratching test

If you scrape the surface of a genuine pearl with something sharp like a knife, it will shed some fine powdery elements.

Imitation ones will expose the material underneath, such as glass or resin.

Fire test

This test requires you to burn a pearl bead with a lighter. A real pearl can survive a mild burn without showing any surface damage.

There will also be absolutely no odor.

Extending the burning period to two minutes will cause the external layer to shed with a popping sound.

A fake pearl cannot survive even a mild burn. It will lose its shine and produce a burnt odor.

Burning for two minutes will turn it into a black bead, melting the outer surfaces.

Bounce test

Take a flat piece of glass and place it on an even surface. Now, drop the pearl bead onto it from a height of 60 cm (almost two feet).

A genuine pearl should rebound around 35 cm (slightly over one foot). However, the rebound height will be much lower for counterfeit pearls.

Chemical solution

You can test pearls with chemical solutions to determine their authenticity, but don’t do it if you are not an expert.

Just like real silver, genuine pearls don’t react with acetone solution, whereas the faux ones will lose their shine completely.

On the other hand, real ones will get dissolved in hydrochloric acid, but nothing will happen to the imitation beads.

Final Thoughts

So, now you know all the safe methods for testing the authenticity of pearls.

But remember that not all genuine pearls are valuable. Like all other precious metals and gemstones, pearls are available in both low and high quality.

Precious pearls mostly have warm, soft and subtle shades of some of the most beautiful colors.

Larger and rounder pearls are rare and highly sought after. However, oval, pear and baroque-shaped beads are also of good value.

Top-grade beads give off bright and intense light, and the intensity drops with the drop in quality.

Low-grade pearls yield dim and blurred light, so they don’t look very bright under the light.

Experts also consider the quality of the external surface and nacre to determine the final price of pearl beads.

If you want to buy pearl jewelry, always choose renowned brands for authentic products.

There are some small independent shops too that sell high-quality genuine pearls.

FAQs about How to Know If Pearls are Real

How heavy are real pearls?

Genuine pearls are heavier than most artificial counterparts, except glass pearls.

A 7.5-millimeter cultured pearl can weigh around 3 carats or 0.6 grams. The largest pearl in the world weighs 1,280 carats with a 238 mm diameter.

Do real pearls peel?

Yes, peeling is natural for any pearl that has layers of nacre. However, the chipping and peeling happen only when they are damaged.

When pearls are harvested before time, they have thin nacre layers. These premature pearls can peel easily.

How can you tell the difference between natural and cultured pearls?

You cannot distinguish a natural pearl from a cultured one just by looking at it.

Performing an X-ray to examine their inner anatomy is the only way to differentiate between them.

Wild pearls are composed of numerous layers of nacre, but cultured pearls have a different composition.

They have a round nucleus protected by a conchiolin halo. Also, their exterior is a thin layer of nacre.

Do real pearls turn yellow?

Yes, natural white pearls may turn yellowish over time, while faux ones don’t change their colors.

Also, pearls are naturally available in various colors, and yellow is one of them.

How do you test if pearls are real?

There are several methods for testing whether a pearl is natural or artificial.

You can simply touch them to feel the temperature, rub against your teeth, or shake them against each other to hear the sound.

Also, you can examine their shine or texture around the drill holes to find more concrete results.