Last updated on June 16, 2021
Pearls are highly sought-after gemstones throughout the world. That is the reason why the pearl market is full of imitations. Many jewellery lovers look for pearl jewellery, but not all know how to tell real pearls from imitations. Some fake pearls are easy to recognize, while others are harder to spot, meaning the probability of purchasing an imitation is high.
What Are Imitation Pearls?
Imitation pearls, also known as synthetic, man-made, fake or faux pearls, are man-made objects created to imitate the real thing.
There are different methods used to create synthetic pearls. The starting material can include plastic, glass and even mollusc shell, while the coating material is a pearlescent substance imitating the natural iridescence of nacre or mother-of-pearl. The substance used to coat imitation pearls can contain essence d’orient, fish scale, mother-of-pearl powder, isinglass and various dyes.
Imitation pearl varieties include:
- Bathed pearls, also known as improved cultured pearls, are a mother-of-pearl core coated with a mixture of plastic enamel, lead carbonate, titanium dioxide and mica covered with a layer of iridescent nylon.
- Bohemian pearls are cut and buffed mother-of-pearl build-ups.
- Cotton pearls, also known as utter ethical pearls, are made from cotton and mica.
- Glass pearls are glass beads dipped with pearlescent material or hollow glass beads filled with pearlescent material. The variations of glass pearls include wax-filled pearls such as Parisian pearls, French pearls, Bourguignon pearls and Venetian pearls.
- Mother-of-pearl pearls are crushed nacreous shell powder sintered into the desired shape.
- Plastic pearls feature a plastic core coated with a pearlescent substance.
- Roman pearls have an alabaster core coated with a pearlescent substance.
- Shell pearls are cut and dyed portions of mollusc shells coated with pearlescent material.
How to Tell Real Pearls from Imitations?
Real Pearls Are Heavier
One of the first differences between real and imitation pearls is their weight. If you grab a real pearl in one hand and a fake pearl of the same size in the other, the real pearl will feel heavier. However, this method is not always accurate, as with the advent of technologies, many imitation pearls feel as heavy as real gemstones. This method of testing will allow telling plastic pearls but will not work with other materials such as shell or composite.
Real Pearls Have Gritty Texture
One of the most noticeable differences between real and imitation pearls is their texture. Genuine gems have an irregular surface, while faux pearls are always smooth. You can barely notice the difference with an untrained eye, but if you try to feel a real pearl with your fingers or rub it against your teeth, you will feel that its surface is uneven.
On the contrary, fake pearls have a very smooth and slippery surface. However, this method is not always accurate, as many fake pearls are created to imitate the uneven surface of real pearls. A better way to test the surface is to use a loupe or a microscope. Under magnification, you will easily spot the texture and notice irregularities.
Real Pearls Have Uneven Colour
Take a closer look at the pearl in a well-lit room or the sunlight. If the pearl is real, its colour will be uneven throughout, meaning you will be able to see gradations of different tones. Fake pearls do now show the same effect – their colour is usually the same throughout the gem.
Real Pearls Are Not Perfectly Round
Real pearls are organic gemstones formed by shelled molluscs. This is a natural process, and it is not as precise as a machine is. That is why most of the real pearls have asymmetries. In contrast, man-made pearls usually have a perfectly spherical shape. It is worth mentioning that there are fake pearls intentionally created with irregularities to mimic a real pearl, but you can always tell the difference by their surface under magnification.
Real Pearls Are Colder
Since real pearls come from the depth of waters, they always feel cold to the touch and adjust to your body temperature once you wear them. On the contrary, the majority of imitation pearls feel warmer and stay at room temperature whether worn or not. However, this test can not be accurate for all cases, as it is highly dependent on the material the imitation is made of. If the pearl is made of glass, it will also feel cold to the touch, but it will take longer for the glass to warm up.
Real Pearls Feature Small and Neat Drill Holes
Real pearls feature smaller drill holes. This is extremely important to preserve the integrity of pearls, which is why the holes are always delicate. On the contrary, fake pearls are not drilled that accurately, and the top layer usually peels off easily with time. This effect can never be seen with real pearls.