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Real vs Fake Pearls: How to Tell the Difference

How to Tell if Pearls are Real or Fake: Five Simple Tests

Many buyers get duped into buying fake pearls instead of real, high-quality pearls. There is little information available on this topic, which leaves many buyers confused or, worse — wary of buying pearl jewelry.

For serious jewelry buyers, learning how to distinguish real from fake pearls is very important.

But don’t worry! With these five easy tests you will be able to tell real pearls from fake ones in no time.

White pearl necklace and earrings

The Tooth Test

One very simple way to tell if a pearl is real is by lightly rubbing it against the biting edge of a tooth. A real pearl will feel gritty, sandy or slightly rough. A fake pearl will feel smooth and glassy.

Watch the video below to see pearl expert Kevin Canning, CEO of Pearls of Joy, demonstrate the proper way to do a tooth test.

 


As you see in this video, the tooth test is easy to do and gives results instantaneously. It doesn’t require any special lab equipment and can be done without damaging the pearl.

 

Drawbacks to the Tooth Test, and Alternatives

The tooth test, while often useful, may not always be accurate. Makers of some fake pearls have started adding a special coating to their faux pearls, so that they feel gritty when rubbed against a tooth, just like a real pearl would.

This test can also be slightly unhygienic, for obvious reasons, and may not be practical in all situations. The tooth test may not be very useful at a jewelry shop, for example, where a seller may not appreciate having their merchandise in a customer’s mouth.

In such situations, buyers can gently rub two pearls together, or against a glass surface, to test if the pearls are real or fake.

Because of the friction between the pearls, real pearls will produce a gritty feeling, or even a small quantity of iridescent powder. Artificial or “fake” pearls, with their smooth surfaces, will simply glide against each other or the glass without producing any iridescent powder or residue.

 

Multicolored Freshwater Pearl Necklace with a laptop and coffee


The Vinegar Test

In this test, vinegar is used to differentiate between fake and real pearls. This test is again very simple: either you put a drop of vinegar on a pearl, or submerge it in vinegar.

A real pearl will dissolve in vinegar or show erosion where the vinegar drop meets its surface. This is because of the chemical reaction between the acid in the vinegar and calcium carbonate, the primary chemical that a real pearl is made of.  

The speed of this chemical reaction will depend on the concentration of the vinegar. Undiluted vinegar will cause the pearl to dissolve or erode faster than vinegar that has been diluted with water.

A fake pearl will not be damaged by this test since it will not undergo a similar chemical reaction.

*** This test may be practical in a pinch, but because the vinegar test can cause damage, it is not generally recommended as a way to test real or fake pearls. ***

 

Closely Inspecting the Pearls

An educated inspection is another simple way to see if a pearl is real or fake. All this requires is for the buyer to inspect the pearls closely, and to know what they’re looking for.

Inspecting the Pearl Surface

The first thing to look for in a real pearl is small imperfections. Real pearls will have some blemishes, like tiny bumps or pits on the surface, and no two pearls will appear identical when compared side-by-side. These blemishes are all natural growth features of real pearls and are a great indication of pearl quality.

With high-quality pearls, these blemishes will be very minor, but even the world’s finest pearls will have imperfections. That’s what makes each pearl unique.

That’s also why certificates for high-quality Hanadama Akoya pearls do not include a “flawless” grade; all pearls have surface variations, even if they are almost microscopic in size. Even for AAA-grade pearls, very minor blemishing and pitting will be visible, if only through a magnifying glass.

By comparison, fake, mass produced pearls will be absolutely identical to each other, and their smooth, glossy surfaces will not have any visible bumps, pits or other blemishes.

 

Looking Closely at Pearl Color

Color will also vary with real pearls, both natural and cultured. This is especially noticeable in pearl necklace and bracelet strands, where there are many pearls to compare side-by-side.

It is impossible to get the exact same color and saturation for all the pearls strung in a necklace or bracelet strand of real pearls. This is especially true for natural pearls. Even with cultured pearls, you can get a very good match, but the pearls will not be identical in color. What’s more, the overtones of the pearls in each strand won’t be identical in intensity or hue.

Fake pearls, however, will have identical colors for all pearl necklace and bracelet strands. They will also lack any overtones or secondary colors.

Only real pearls can produce those gorgeous overtones. This is because their nacre layers bounce light back, diffusing it and creating spectacular rainbow-like secondary colors. An imitation pearl, with its artificial shiny outer coating, cannot diffuse light.

 

The Weight of Real Pearls

Another thing to notice is the weight of the pearls. Real pearls have heft. This is especially true for pearl necklace and pearl bracelet strands. Imitation pearls may feel light in weight, especially if they are made from plastic beads.

The weight test may not always work, however. Some high-quality imitation pearls, like Mallorca pearls, are made from glass beads which may end up weighing almost the same as real pearls. So buyers have to be mindful of where they are buying their pearls from.

 

White pearl dangle earrings on pink and white background


Inspecting the Drill Hole in Each Pearl

Jewelry makers often need to drill directly into pearls in order to secure them in a setting, or to string them onto a necklace or bracelet.

For some settings, pearls may only be drilled partway through. Pearls that are strung on necklaces and bracelets are fully drilled, with the drill hole running directly through the pearl, from one outer edge to the other.

Pearl drill holes and the area immediately surrounding them can easily give away fake pearls. Real pearls will have crisp, clean drill holes. There will be no material build up or buckling of nacre layers around the drill holes. Also, it will not be possible to peel off the iridescent nacre layers at the drill holes.

Fake pearls, on the other hand, will often have uneven material build-up around drill holes, usually consisting of the acrylic paint used to cover an inner glass or plastic bead. In some cases, the pearlescent outer coating of fake pearls may be chipped or peeling away around the drill hole, exposing the plastic or glass bead within.

 

Buying From Reputable Pearl Sellers

The most straightforward and foolproof way to avoid fake pearls is to buy from reputable sellers, like Pearls of Joy.

Pearls of Joy has over 40,000 happy customers, and many of them are repeat clients. This is because Pearls of Joy has earned a strong reputation for integrity in the jewelry industry in the two decades since it was founded.

You will only find high-quality cultured pearls here. What’s more, Pearls of Joy’s direct-to-consumer pricing model removes unnecessary overhead by sourcing pearls directly from pearl farms. That’s why jewelry buyers can find beautiful pearls and pearl jewelry at very affordable, highly competitive prices at Pearls of Joy.

 

White pearl necklace and bracelet draped against white and grey modern background blocks


How to Tell if Different Types of Pearls are Real

Very often pearl buyers are attracted to different types of cultured pearls, but stop short of buying because they don’t understand if those pearls are real or fake.

How to Tell if Freshwater Pearls are Real?

Freshwater pearls are absolutely real! There are two different types of cultured Freshwater pearls.

First there are traditional, tissue-nucleated Freshwater pearls. These are created when a small piece of a donor oyster’s mantle tissue is used to start the pearl creation process. Second are the newer and larger bead-nucleated Freshwater pearls. With this method, a bead nucleus is used to start the pearl creation process.

Both types of Freshwater pearls are real pearls and are formed in oysters that are left in lakes, rivers and ponds for long periods of time.

Freshwater pearls are renowned for their natural pastel colors such as pink, peach, white and lavender, their silky and soft luster, and their superb iridescence and colorful overtones.

Tissue-nucleated Freshwater pearls are never spherically round — they usually have an off-round shape. However, you can find perfectly round bead-nucleated Freshwater pearls because the nacre layers grow around a perfectly round bead nucleus.

 

Hanadama Pearl Necklace on Lab Certificate Close up


How to Tell if Akoya Pearls are Real?

Without a doubt, Akoya pearls are real pearls! Akoya pearls are one of the most popular and coveted pearls today. These are saltwater, bead-nucleated cultured pearls and are well loved for their bright and mirror-like luster.

Akoya pearls are mainly white or creamy white in color, but you may also find blue and yellow-gold colored Akoya pearls. Most high-quality Akoya pearls have light pink or soft green overtones.

However, it’s the presence of the rainbow-like secondary colors, or orient, skimming on the surface of gem-quality Hanadama Akoya pearls that truly sets these pearls apart.

High-quality Akoya pearls are valued for their perfectly symmetrical, round shape. Whether as necklaces or bracelets, this round shape sets Akoya pearls apart. But it is with Akoya pearl stud earrings that you really get to appreciate the perfect symmetry of these pearls.

Some disreputable sellers try to sell freshwater pearls as Akoyas. But jewelry buyers can easily learn how to tell if the Akoya pearls they’re looking at are real. This is because the slightly egg-like shape of Freshwater pearls is distinct from the perfectly spherical shape of Akoya pearls. This difference in pearl shape gives the fake Akoya pearls dead away.

 

Multi color Tahitian Pearl Necklace with Earrings on Silk Cloth with Tiny White Flowers


How to Tell if Tahitian Pearls are Real?

Tahitian pearls are absolutely real!

Cultured Tahitian pearls are cultivated in the black-lipped Pinctada Margaritifera mollusk in the pristine waters of French Polynesia. Tahitian pearls are regarded as luxury pearls.

Adored for their black, dark gray, light gray and silver body colors, these saltwater pearls exhibit fabulous iridescence and multihued overtones, including green, blue, gold, cherry, aubergine and peacock. This fantastic array of colors makes Tahitian pearls really special.

Some disreputable sellers sell black-dyed Freshwater pearls as Tahitians. In this case, again, it’s easy to tell the real from fake. This is because the iridescence and overtone colors are always vivid in real Tahitian pearls, and secondary colors hovering on the surface of these pearls move and change when the pearl is rotated.

Compared to this, black-dyed Freshwater pearls lack the depth and shine of genuine Tahitians, and up-close examination may reveal tiny black specks on the pearls' surfaaces. This is because the black dye cannot replicate the fluid movement of color, nor the lustrousness of real Tahitian pearls due to the color-treatment process.

 

How to Tell if South Sea Pearls are Real?

Without a shadow of a doubt, South Sea pearls are real pearls. Both white and gold South Sea pearls are the epitome of luxury jewelry.

Cultured South Sea pearls are saltwater pearls and are desired for their arresting golden and silky white colors as well as for their large sizes. It’s possible to find South Sea pearls in sizes upwards of 21 mm!

Golden South Sea pearls get their body color from the gold-lipped Pinctada Maxima mollusk, and white South Sea pearls get their color from the white-lipped Pinctada Maxima mollusk. Both types of South Sea pearls exhibit a satiny luster because of their thick nacre.

As with other high-quality and expensive pearls, some bad faith sellers offer yellow- or gold-dyed Freshwater pearls as golden South Sea pearls.

But with close inspection, it's easy to differentiate between the real vs. fake South Sea pearls. This is because the gold or yellow dye collects in the rings, pits and blemishes of the dyed Freshwater pearls, making these spots darker than the rest of the pearl.

Compared to this, the pits, rings and blemishes of golden South Sea pearls are the same color as the rest of the pearl.

One of the easiest ways to avoid getting deceived by fraudulent sellers is to understand pearl prices. If a pearl price seems too good to be true, then it most probably is a fake!

In fact, if you’re interested in learning more about pearl prices, check out our Pearl Prices Guide.

Golden South Sea pearl necklace on white background


Are Colored Pearls Real or Fake?

When shopping for pearls, buyers may come across a variety of colored pearls. Often these are naturally colored, such as lavender Freshwater pearls or silvery-gray Tahitian pearls.

At other times, the color is artificial, a result of different treatments and enhancements that the pearls have undergone.

Therefore, it’s important to understand the difference between naturally colored and dyed pearls, so that jewelry buyers can make informed purchasing decisions.

 

Are Black Pearls Real?

Yes, black pearls are real. Tahitian pearls, which are also called black pearls, have a natural black or dark gray body color. Black Akoya pearls as well as black Freshwater pearls, however, are dyed or irradiated to look black.

Are Blue Pearls Real?

Absolutely! Blue pearls are real. For instance blue Akoya pearls have a natural baby blue color. Some Tahitian pearls have blue overtones, and the very rare gray-blue South Sea pearls are loved for their gorgeous hues.

But there are also dyed blue freshwater pearls, and sometimes you may also come across Akoya pearls that have been dyed blue. Honest sellers should label dyed pearls accordingly.

 

Are Gold Pearls Real?

Yes, gold pearls are real. Golden South Sea pearls with their sunny colors, and gold Akoya pearls, are naturally golden in color. Some bead-nucleated Freshwater pearls also have a natural metallic gold-bronze body color.

However, as mentioned above, there are many dyed Freshwater pearls that are sold as South Sea pearls. But if you know how to tell real from fake pearls, you will be OK!

 

Real or Fake Pearls: In the End, What Should You Do?

Identifying fake pearls is a real concern among pearl buyers, and using one of these identification methods can help shoppers avoid a bad choice. However, purchasing pearls from reputable pearl sellers, like Pearls of Joy, will always be the best way to prevent getting burned.

 

The Perfect Strand of Pearls

Fine Japanese Akoya Pearls

The perfect strand of pearls... Is it possible?


Perfectly round, beautifully matched, with a mirror like luster – Japanese Akoya pearls can’t be matched for quality and high-end appeal. This is the classic pearl necklace.  


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