Don't know where to start when it comes to testing pearl authenticity? You are in luck! Pearls are absolutely my jam, and my bread and butter as well.
The thing that attracted me to pearls in particular is their unique status as the world's only organic gemstone. This makes them far more sensitive to irritants such as perfume or hairspray.
Using these products on your pearl jewelry can severely damage the luster and beauty of your stones. Pearls are meant to last a lifetime but common chemicals can cut that down to just a few months, so take care around your pearl jewelry.
I have been selling pearls from the Philippines for almost half a decade, and while there are fakes around, testing pearl authenticity becomes a walk in the park once you know what to look for.
There are many types of pearls with plenty of colors and even shapes within each classification. Fortunately the methods for testing genuine pearls can be applied to any kind you have in mind.
Once you've read through our guide on testing pearl authenticity you'll be an absolute pearl professional. Let's not hesitate any longer, and dive with me into the wonderful world of pearls.
There are four generally recognized classifications of pearl, based on the region which the pearls come from.
Akoya pearls from Japan are extremely white and almost perfectly round, these pearls usually range in size from 3mm to 12mm. If you are thinking of a classic pearl necklace, you are likely thinking of Akoya pearls.
Freshwater pearls are generally farmed in China. These pearls are some of the most affordable on the market. Freshwater pearls range in size from 5mm to a whopping 20mm. Color variations are too many to list but include lavender, peach, white, blue, rose, and green!
Tahitian pearls from French Polynesia are the only naturally occurring black pearls, though they can range from black to silver. Overtone shades include pink, yellow, blue, and green. Tahitian pearls are larger on average, ranging from 9mm to 18mm.
South Sea pearls from Philippines, Australia, and Indonesia. These pearls are also larger than average, though slightly smaller than Tahitian pearls. Sizes range from 8mm to 16mm. South Sea pearls appear in white and gold varieties.
Warning: Majorca pearls are NOT real pearls. If you see any pearls labeled as Majorca (or Mallorca) pearls, you can know for certain that they are artificial. Don't buy them unless you're paying cents on the dollar.
Testing with Sight
There are many ways to go about testing pearl authenticity. We will start with the simplest way first, just use your eyes. Authentic pearls will not be perfectly round and will almost always have variations in their surface. Imitation pearls often look perfectly spherical with an even luster.
Speaking of luster, an imitation pearl simply can't match the sheen and overtone of natural pearls. As the light hits the stone you should be able to see a subtle color reflected on the outer surface. While the reflective nature of a pearl is easy enough to duplicate, the overtones rarely if ever appear on a fake.
Some lower quality pearls lack the overtones and/or glossiness, but that is why we never rely on just one test. You can never be too careful when testing pearl authenticity, so take your time and go through this entire list if needed.
Testing by Touch
If your eyes don't give results you can 100% rely on then it is time to move on to touching tests! I've heard plenty of people suggest rubbing the pearl against your teeth. If the pearl is gritty and rough it's authentic, and smooth pearls are fake. While this certainly works I can guarantee that whether you've brushed that morning or not, that distributor will likely not accept your repeat business.
Even rubbing the pearls together can sacrifice some of the protective naturally occurring nacre. Once you are done grinding two legitimate pearls together, you can actually see some of this powdered nacre on your hands. Counterfeit pearls will always slide against each other smoothly and will never leave this powder. Still, I'd suggest not doing either of these touch tests unless you already own the pearls.
Which touch tests are generally accepted by vendors? Well, just about anything that doesn't negatively affect the product. When testing pearl authenticity I will generally grab a few and pay close attention to their temperature. Authentic pearls feel slightly cooler than room temperature for the first few seconds of handling. Glass imitations can often match this cool feeling so again never rely on just a single test.
The weight of pearls is a nice indicator of its legitimacy. True pearls will feel heavier than they look. Testing weight comes with practice but can be made significantly easier if you have a pearl that you know is authentic to compare and contrast. The final test for testing pearl authenticity that I can suggest is simply to place the pearl on a flat surface and try to roll it in a straight line. A true pearl shouldn't roll straight due to tiny imperfections in the surface. Even if you can't detect these small variables with your eyes, gravity never lies.
Testing Literally, with Science
If you're really desperate to know whether your pearls are authentic or not, you can always take them to an appraiser or a lab. Be warned that this is not cost-effective and will absolutely obliterate the bottom-line if you are attempting to run a business.
Appraisers will grade your pearl on top of proclaiming its authenticity, but even a basic inspection will easily run into the hundreds. If you are looking into the business of pearls I'd highly suggest cultivating your confidence by practicing and refining the free tests mentioned in the other sections of this article.
Pearls are a fantastic and amazing stone with a beauty that is nearly unmatched in the natural world. They are truly living gemstones that need to avoid caustic substances. Pearls also need to be taken out and worn or they become yellow and dull. I could write an separate article on the care and maintenance of your pearls, and I just might. You won't see that sort of interaction from a diamond!
Now that you know how to go about testing pearl authenticity perhaps you can start a business of your own, or even just help your grandma figure out which necklaces are worth keeping in her collection. Love your pearls and they will love you back.