Who doesn’t love pearls?
They are beautiful, versatile, and go with everything from jeans to dress-up cocktail wear. Your grandmother and mother probably had them – and you may have been given them as a bridesmaid’s, birthday, or birthstone gift.
Yes, June’s birthstone is the pearl.
But what happens if you buy pearls for yourself and find out they are fake? Far from buying a beautiful piece that you can pass on to your children, you are left disappointed – and feel cheated. Pearls are a luxury item, and you may be tempted to buy them at a more affordable price. There are plenty of unscrupulous retailers willing to sell you a fake -and you will not be able to tell the difference. Plus, if you are giving the pearls to someone else – and they are fake – how embarrassing will that be?
What Are Pearls?
Most of the pearls on the market today are cultured pearls, which means they have been made artificially by introducing a small irritant or bead into a mollusk or oyster. The mollusk then forms a pearl sac, coating the seed with a substance called “nacre” and eventually forming a pearl.
- Akoya pearls are salt-water, cultured pearls made from the Akoya oyster. They are known for their near-perfect matching, but still have minute differences in color and iridescence.
- South Sea pearls are generally white, silver or golden in color and they are harvested in Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines. They are relatively large due to their thick ‘nacre,’ and longer growth period due to dwindling places for them to thrive.
- Tahitian pearls come in a variety of more exotic colors such as black, green, grey and silver and are cultured in saltwater around the French Polynesian islands. They cost more than freshwater or Akoya pearls because of their extraordinary colors.
- Freshwater pearls are produced in oysters that live in lakes or ponds. They are not as round as saltwater pearls, so they are less expensive. These are readily available and most often used by jewelry designers.
- Wild natural pearls have small imperfections and variations in shape, color and luster. That means every pearl harvested is totally unique with its own characteristic look. These are prized the highest.
Real or Fake?
There are several visual and physical tests you can do to find out if your pearls are real or not:
- Are there variations in shape? (They’re real)
- Are there inclusions or blemishes on the surface? (Real)
- Are there lighter or darker areas under the surface? (Real)
- Do the pearls feel heavy and dense? (Real)
- Do they feel light and insubstantial? (Fake)
- Check to see if your pearls are perfectly round. (Fake)
- Do they have a “plastic-y” shine? (Fake)
Keep in mind: Cultured pearls always have imperfections of some kind. Synthetic pearls are coated with glass, plastic, or made with crystal beads. They are visually perfect.
Rub the surface of the pearls against your teeth. They should feel a little gritty. Fake pearls feel smooth. The grittiness is from thousands of layers of crystalline within the pearl, making a sandpaper-like top coating.
Feel the temperature of the pearls. Real ones are initially cold to the touch. Fake ones are room temperature.
Natural and cultured pearls have a translucent color on the outer surface. You will see hints of pink and green over the main pearl color. Fake pearls have one, uniform color. Fake pearls are often found in unnatural colors from red to black to lime green and purple.
Real or cultured pearls come in all shapes, such as oval, near-round, circled, drop, baroque and button. If their shapes are identical, they’re fake.
Real pearls have small drill hopes. Under magnification, the coating around the drill holes of fake pearls is thin, and it eventually peels off in flakes or chips.
There are many types of realistic-looking synthetic pearls on the market, so it’s buyer beware!
Dover has a beautiful selection of real pearl jewelry at all price points.
Here is just a sampling of what we love, which shows you the wide range of choices we offer.
A final note. It is important to stress that the best way to find out if your pearls are real or not, is to have them checked by a professional jeweler. It is worth the effort to give you peace of mind.
If you decide to re-sell them, Dover’s team of consignment experts can authenticate them for you, give you a fair market value, then advertise them to a wide audience through our exclusive website alliances.