One feature of authentic pearls that’s virtually impossible to imitate is the texture. Grab a magnifying glass (at least 10x magnification works best), and take a close look. Real pearls have a surface texture that’s similar to swept grain, like you might find in the appearance of a sand dune. By contrast, fake pearls frequently have a surface that’s a bit rougher, and more like an eggshell. As a note, the texture rule holds true for both natural and cultured pearls.
The small imperfections of pearls are part of their charm, and unless the item you’re considering has a seriously exorbitant price tag, the odds of perfectly round, flawless pearls being real are slim to none. Not only do genuine pearls tend not to be perfectly smooth and spherical, but they’re also unlikely to match each other in exact size. While this isn’t a 100% foolproof way to tell if pearls are real, it’s an excellent tip-off if you’re shopping under pressure (or at a nontraditional retailer) and have to make a quick decision.
As with many metals and gemstones, a little scratch can do wonders when it comes to figuring out if a pearl is real. Using the tip of a knife, create a tiny impression in the surface. A real pearl will yield a small amount of dust or powder, while coated beads will reveal the surface of the glass. If you choose to go with this method, be careful to safeguard against visible damage. For pearl rings, aim for the back of the pearl, and if it’s a necklace, choose a less noticeable pearl near the clasp.
A surprisingly effective fix for knowing if pearls are real is to drop a pearl onto glass and measure the bounce. Position the pearl about 24 inches above a glass surface, such as a mirror or coffee table, and let it drop. A real pearl should bounce about 13 or 14 inches high, whereas an imitation pearl’s bounce will typically be much lower. Obviously this method works best for individual pearls rather than intricate jewelry items.
In many cases, the best way to tell if pearls are real is to take them to an expert. Be sure to consult with an appraiser or a fine jewelry dealer who’s experienced and certified. If the item is meaningful, getting a second opinion can be well worth it.
Up next, read on to see how to wear pearls the modern way.