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How to Tell if Pearls are Real

How to Tell if Pearls are Real

You love the way you feel when you’re wearing pearls. There’s no question as to why—they’re a stunning, timeless accessory. The gentle shimmer of a pearl bracelet, the classic glamor of a pair of pearl studs—they’re the perfect way to level up nearly any outfit. Whether you’re learning how to wear pearls for different occasions or expanding your pearl jewelry collection, they’re a timeless option. And that can be the case for both real pearl jewelry and imitation pearls. 

Lab-created gemstones and cultured pearls are an ethical, inexpensive alternative to naturally occurring options including human intervention. Real pearls, on the other hand, are the result of a natural occurrence within mollusks. Still, cultured pearls differ from imitation pearls as these are usually made with glass, plastic, or shell. 

If you want to hone your ability to distinguish real pearls from fake pearls, look no further. Read on to learn how to tell if pearls are real.

Pearl Necklace

What are Real Pearls?

Pearls are a byproduct of a natural process that takes place within the shell of an oyster or mollusk. When an irritant (such as a grain of sand or  a piece of shell) finds its way into a mollusk’s bivalve, the mollusk will protect itself by coating the invader with nacre (mother of pearl). Layer after layer of nacre will build up around the irritant, eventually forming a real pearl.

Saltwater pearls are found within three types of oyster:

  • Pinctada Maxima oysters produce South Sea pearls.
  • Pinctada Margaritifera oysters produce Tahitian black pearls.
  • Pinctada Fucata oysters produce Akoya pearls.

Pearls are extremely rare in the wild, so “natural” pearls are quite prized (and can be exorbitantly expensive). Freshwater mussels also produce pearls. They can produce multiple pearls at once, and therefore freshwater pearls tend to be much more abundant and affordable than saltwater pearls.

What are Fake Pearls?

Lab-created gemstones that are made to resemble diamonds, emeralds, rubies and other mined gems can be just as high quality (and are far more ethical) than their naturally occurring counterparts. The same can be said about cultured pearls. What is different, however, is imitation and fake pearls.  

Fake or imitation pearls are usually made from glass, plastic or shell. They’re not as durable as real pearls, and typically not as attractive either. 

Cultured pearls are the closest equivalent to a quality lab grown stone. They’re just as beautiful as pearls found in nature, but they’re far easier to source. In fact, they’re produced in exactly the same way as natural pearls—the only difference is that human hands initiate and manipulate the process.

How to Tell the Difference

Now that you know the difference between fake and real pearls, we can dive into the physical clues that  will help you distinguish them from one another.

If you’re looking to purchase, you’ll likely want to focus on finding real, cultured pearls. When buying online, the best option is to purchase from a trusted retailer. If you’re purchasing in person, you’ll definitely want to scrutinize the pearls on offer a bit more closely. 

A brief overview on pearl education can go a long way when distinguishing between fake and authentic pearls. Here are four trusty tips to help you make an informed purchase.

#1 Judge the Weight

Real pearls are solid, dense and sit heavily in the hand. The materials used to make fake pearls are lighter than the layered nacre of a real pearl.

Because of their density, real pearls will also feel cool to the touch and take much longer to warm up next to your natural body heat.

#2 Look for Luster

A thick layer of nacre is a prerequisite in a perfect pearl since nacre is what gives real pearls their mesmerizing sheen. Look for a deep, multidimensional shine on  the surface of the pearl. 

That said, grading the quality of real pearls through visual examination can be difficult, and typically requires special training—another reason to buy from a trusted source.

Here are a few of the categories that determine the quality of a real pearl:

  • Clarity of reflection – The sharper the reflection, the better. 
  • Thickness of nacre – In most cases, the thicker the nacre, the higher the quality. 
  • Size – Larger pearls tend to be more valuable than their smaller counterparts. 
  • Surface regularity – Smooth, round pearls are generally favored over irregular shapes or blemished surfaces. 

#3 Find Your Reflection

In the highest quality pearls, reflections appear as clear as day. While the images reflected in lower quality pearls aren’t quite as sharp, all real pearls are at least somewhat reflective. Most fake pearls show no reflection at all.

#4 Try the Tooth Test

Nacre is an organic substance. If you rub a pearl gently across the flat front side of your teeth, you’ll be able to feel a distinct sandpapery texture. A fake pearl made from glass or plastic will feel smooth as silk.

Once you’ve got your hands on them, make sure you learn how to clean pearls to make sure they last.  

Diamond Nexus™: Real Pearls at a Price Point You’ll Love

You now have all the knowledge you need to pick the true pearls out of the pack. If you’d prefer to leave the appraising to the professionals, there’s no better place to buy quality, cultivated pearls than the Diamond Nexus online jewelry shop.

At Diamond Nexus, we’re dedicated to sourcing and creating ethical, affordable and environmentally-friendly jewelry. When you shop with us, you can feel confident knowing that you’re buying finely-crafted, durable and stylish pieces. 

Whether it’s for a special occasion or just because, you and your loved ones deserve to feel fantastic in pearls. Find them (without the fuss) at Diamond Nexus.

Sienna Bracelet in 14K White Gold


The List. Why are pearls so expensive?

ABC. Pearls: How to Spot the Real Deal.

 Southern Living.  How to Tell if Pearls are Real.

Gemological Institute of America. Pearl Quality Factors.

Gemological Institute of America. Pearl Description.

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