SERIES 1: How to Shop for Pearls
Part 2 – Determining Genuine Pearls
The first thing to check when inspecting pearls is to first determine whether they are real pearls or imitation. And to clarify, when I say, “real pearls” I am including both natural and cultured pearls into this category. Cultured pearls have long since been dismissed as not being “real pearls,” and should always be considered genuine. Imitation pearls are ones that are not an organic, grown substance, and are usually produced using a mold by a machine. The lack of irregularities is a dead give-away that they are not genuine pearls. That is, unless you have found yourself a truly great strand of pearls!
Once you have handled and seen many pearls up-close, determining their legitimacy will be an easy task. Imitation pearls are generally made from plastic which makes them lighter than real pearls and the surface is unnaturally smooth. Because real pearls are an organic substance, the surface appears smooth to the eye, but in actuality has a slightly gritty texture. You may be able to feel this with your fingers if you are comparing a real pearl strand to an imitation strand side by side. If you don’t have any other strand to compare to, the foolproof method to determining authenticity of the pearls is to gently scrape your teeth on the surface of the pearl. If they are real pearls, then the sensation will probably be rather unpleasant, as the surface of a pearl will have the texture of fine sand to your teeth. If you try this with imitation pearls, you will instantly be able to detect the non-porous, smoothness of the plastic that slides off your teeth.
Generally, if you are buying from a reputable store (in person or online), you won’t need to verify the pearls are genuine. If you’re buying from an individual or unknown seller at a thrift/antique store, on Ebay, or a yard sale, then I would recommend checking if you are not certain. Most jewelry and pearl stores are selling genuine pearls, so the real trick is determining which is the best quality for the best value.