Real Pearls versus Imitation

How can you tell if a pearl is genuine or imitation? Here are a few tips:

Irregularities

Minor irregularities in color and overtone are an indication that the pearl necklaces are genuine. Too perfectly matched strands of perfectly round pearls, especially if at a bargain price should raise warning flags. One of the more telltale signs of imitation pearls is finding black pearls that are large, symmetrical, and perfectly matched in every way. A strand such as this does not exist as real pearls, since all pearls are slightly different. Especially with the different colored hues between individual black pearls, a perfect piece of black pearl jewelry is very rarely found and worth in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Another giveaway sign is the drill hole. On imitation pearls, the drill hole is almost never as precise when compared to real pearls.

Terminology

Look for terms commonly associated with imitation pearls. Imitation pearls are typically made from glass, ceramic, shell, or even plastic. They are coated with materials such as varnish in order to produce their fake luster. Common names for imitation pearls are “faux”, "simulated," "artificial," or "man-made." Sometimes, the names of regions are also used. Examples of this include “Red Sea Pearls” or the famous “Mallorca Pearls”. The most common imitation pearls are referred to as “Majorca Pearls”, which are essentially made of glass. It is considered very deceptive in the pearl industry to sell imitation pearls without clearly marking that fact.

A marketing ploy common among imitation pearl sellers is the use of the term “semi-cultured”. This is a misleading phrase used by deceptive organization to fool the consumer. This is where rejected pearls are taken and covered with mother-of-pearl coating and with other luster imitating chemicals and then resold to the public. These are always imitation pearls.

The Tooth Test

A common and fairly reliable test for fake pearls is to simply rub the pearl gently across your teeth. The surface of real pearls should feel rough or “sandy” due to the unique build up of the nacreous surface. A fake or imitation pearl will generally feel smooth across your teeth, such as glass or plastic.

Certification

Genuine pearl necklaces will have paperwork guaranteeing their quality and certifying the type of pearl they are. The certificate should say what type of pearl they are. Reliable pearl jewelry shops provide this certification and should have a return policy so you can examine the jewelry before deciding whether to keep it.