A few simple tests can help you determine whether your pearl jewellery is the “real deal” in a matter of minutes.
1. Visual Test
Look for minor imperfections. As noted above, real pearls are rarely “perfect”. Usually, there will be either minor blemishes on the surface or irregularities in its shape. Their outer nacre layer may also reflect light differently on different parts of the pearl. Imitation pearls are almost always “too perfect” — they look perfectly spherical, there is always the same amount of luster on every part of the surface, and show no indents or imperfections.
• While perfectly round real pearls are rare but possible, a necklace will almost never be made only from these types of pearls. A necklace made from pearls that all seem to be exactly the same smooth, round shape is almost certainly a fake.
Look for clues around the drill hole. Pearls on a strand or necklace will usually have holes drilled in them for the string to pass through. Examining this hole carefully can help you tell whether your pearl is real or otherwise. Specific things you’ll want to look for include:
• Well-defined edges to the hole. Real pearls usually have drill holes with sharp edges (like a hollow cylinder). Fakes often have rough or rounded edges. However, old and well-worn real pearls may also have rounded edges to their holes.
• Chipped paint or coating around the hole. As fake pearls rub against each other with repeated use, their artificial coating can wear away around the holes. You may be able to see slivers of glass or plastic underneath. This is a sure sign of an imitation.
2. Touch Test
Rub the pearls against your front teeth. Hold one or two pearls between your thumb and forefinger and press them gently into the biting edge of your front teeth. Rub them against your teeth with a side-to-side motion. A real pearl will usually have a slightly rough or gritty texture from tiny scale-like imperfections in its outer layers of nacre. Fake pearls made from glass or plastic will usually be almost perfectly smooth.
• You may want to brush your teeth before attempting this test to make sure they’re clean. Food residue from a recent meal can give false results.
Rub the pearls against each other. Hold a few pearls in your fingers and gently rub them against each other. Feel for the slight sensation of friction. Real pearls will usually generate a little friction when they rub against each other because their outer layers of nacre are not perfectly smooth. Fake pearls, on the other hand, often have smooth coatings and will usually glide past each other when rubbed together.
• Take a close look at your hands after this test. When two pearls rub against each other, their outer layers often erode a small amount. If you notice a fine, powdery, white residue after rubbing your pearls, this is probably powdered nacre — a sign that the pearls are real