Pearls and fakes : quick identification tips

Choice examples of pearls are scarce and highly valued as gems. There are, however, a variety of other materials have been used to make faux, fake, substitute (or what other term you want to use) pearls. Fake pearls can be, amongst other things, painted over glass and plastic balls and small shells. This post offers some quick introductary tips to telling the difference between real and fake pearls, but isn’t intended to replace the opinion of a qualified gemnologist or jeweler.


Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Necklace

— The most commost test for a pearl is to run it over the edge of your teeth. A real pearl will feel sandy and gritty, while fake pearls tend to feel smooth. Similarly, if you lightly rub two pearls against each other, they should feel gritty not smooth. Also, rubbing them together might produce a light powder.

If you put a pearl under a strong microscope, it looks scaly. Fake pearls often have a grainy surface.

– Closely examine the pearls for flaws. If the pearl is completely and unnaturally perfect, that points to it being a fake.

Pearls are fairly heavy and tend to be heavier than fakes. Glass, however, can have some heft to it.

If you have a string of pearls, examine it under sunlight or other bright light source. As natural pearls in a necklace were taken from different mollusks and often from different places, the tones of the pearls should differ. If the tone/color is the exact same across all the pearls, that points to them being fake.

— Similarly, under black light the different pearls should fluoresce differently on a string of pearls, and will tend to fluoresce yellowish or tan. Fake pearls will tend to be uniform across the line.

— As wild pearls were made in nature, they rarely to never are perfectly round. If pearls on a necklace are perfectly round, that points to them being fake.

Cultured (rather than natural or wild) pearls were introduced in the 1900s. If there is rock solid provenance showing a pearl or pearls is from before 1900 is significant.