How to tell if a pearl is real: A Comprehensive Guide

Hesitated to purchase pearls because you are unsure how to distinguish between real pearls and fake pearls? Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you identify real pearls and make an informed purchase.

Shape and Size Variability

Natural pearls come in various shapes and sizes, and perfect roundness is rare. If you have a string of pearls, look for slight variations in shape and size. Consistency in shape and size throughout the strand could indicate that the pearls are synthetic pearls or cultured pearls under highly controlled conditions.

Surface Inspection

One of the primary indicators of a real pearl is its surface. You can try to examine the surface of the pearl under a magnifying glass or a jeweler's loupe. Real pearls will have minor imperfections, such as tiny bumps or pits. These natural blemishes make each pearl unique. Even the highest quality pearls, like Tennyo Akoya, have some surface variations. In contrast, fake pearls typically have a smooth, glassy finish without any natural flaws, as they are mass-produced to look identical.

The Drill Hole Test

Inspect the drill holes in the pearls. Real pearls typically have smaller drill holes with smooth edges, while imitation pearls often have larger, rougher holes. Additionally, the nacre around the drill hole of a real pearl will usually show signs of layering.

The iridescent nacre layers at the drill holes will remain intact and impossible to peel off. In contrast, the coating of fake pearls, typically from the acrylic paint, might even be chipped or peeling away, revealing the underlying bead.

The Color and Luster Test

Real pearls exhibit a deep, complex luster that seems to emanate from within the pearl itself. This inner glow, combined with surface reflections, gives real pearls their distinctive shine. Fake pearls, on the other hand, tend to have a superficial, one-dimensional shine that lacks depth, unlike real pearls whose nacre layers diffuse light and create rainbow-like effects.

Color varies in real pearls, both natural and cultured, especially noticeable in necklaces and bracelets where multiple pearls are compared. Achieving uniform color and saturation is impossible for natural pearls and difficult for cultured ones. In contrast, fake pearls have identical colors due to their artificial coating.

Weight Test

Real pearls are denser and heavier than their fake counterparts, which becomes particularly evident in strands of pearl necklaces and bracelets. If you have access to a scale, compare the weight of the pearl in question to a known real pearl of similar size. The real pearl will generally feel heavier.

Since there is no absolute numerical standard for the weight of pearls, the weight test is generally only useful for distinguishing between real pearls and imitations made of plastic or glass, which tend to have a significant difference in weight. For the average pearl lovers, this method can help identify obvious fakes but may not be as effective for more subtle distinctions.

Temperature Test

Pearls have a unique thermal property: they feel cool to the touch when you first pick them up but gradually warm up against your skin. Fake pearls, particularly those made from plastic, will feel room temperature immediately and won't have the same cooling effect.

The Tooth Test

One of the simplest and most well-known methods to test a pearl's authenticity is the tooth test. Gently rub the pearl against the edge of your front teeth. Real pearls will feel slightly gritty due to the natural texture of nacre, while fake pearls usually feel smooth or plastic-like. Theoretically this test will work, but we will not recommend this method. Neither real nor fake pearls, it might leave a mark on the pearl.

Professional Appraisal

When in doubt, seek the expertise of a professional jeweler or gemologist. They have the necessary tools and experience to accurately determine the authenticity of pearls. A professional appraisal can provide peace of mind, especially for high-value purchases, like BIWAKO Jewelry.

BIWAKO Jewelry is the modern Japanese pearl heirloom. Founded by Nishimura family in 1976, BIWAKO has been farming pearls for the last 5 decades. BIWAKO Jewelry carries on the family’s mission to offer the world’s best-in-class pearls with timeless Japanese values. That’s the reason  why BIWAKO Jewelry has so many pearl lovers.