Even with the popularity of cultivated freshwater pearls making these gems more accessible, pearls are still some of the most coveted gems out there due to their beauty and historical reputation for power.

Unfortunately, many unscrupulous people take advantage of the demand for pearls by making fake pearls and passing them off as real ones.

Fake pearls in and of themselves are not a problem and are a great addition to a costume jewelry collection. The problem arises when people attempt to charge real pearl prices for fake pearls.

As fake pearls become more realistic, the person selling you the pearls may not even recognize the differences.

As realistic as fake pearls are, there are still crucial differences between them and the real deal. Here are some tips to help you ensure that you’re getting authentic pearls.

Table of Contents

Know the Difference Between Natural, Cultured, and Fake Pearls

Natural pearls are pearls found completely in the wild with no human intervention. Due to historic overharvesting, these pearls are incredibly rare and are either museum pieces or retail for millions of dollars.

Cultured pearls are pearls that grow due to humans inducing the pearl process. They can be saltwater pearls, such as the South Sea or Akoya pearls, which grow in places that mimic the natural habitats of pearl oysters.

Cultured pearls can also be freshwater pearls, which come from rivers and don’t have to come from oysters at all. Freshwater pearls are the most affordable type of real pearls.

Fake pearls are man-made beads shaped to look like pearls. They can be made out of glass, alabaster, or even plastic.

It’s important to know the different types of pearls and their relative value to watch out for suspiciously affordable pearls.

If a jeweler is touting natural pearls (which are almost impossible to find without a connection) or normally high-value cultured pearls such as South Sea pearls for a very low price, they are probably fake.

Touch the Pearls

One of the best ways to tell fake pearls from real pearls is to touch the jewelry.

First, look at the temperature of the pearls. Real pearls are naturally cool, but quickly take on the temperature of your skin. If the pearls are room temperature to the touch or take a long time to warm up in your hand, they are made of plastic or glass, not real mother-of-pearl.

You should also examine the texture of the surface. If the pearls feel unnaturally smooth or glass-like, they are most likely actually made of glass, not nacre.

Real pearls should feel slightly gritty. The best test is to rub a pearl against another pearl or your tooth and feel for a slight roughness.

Finally, feel the weight of the pearls. Usually, fake pearls are light, while authentic pearls have some heft to them.

Look for Imperfections

When looking for authentic pearls, beware of pearls that seem too perfect. This seems counterintuitive as you want pearls that are as blemish-free as possible if you are searching for high-value pearls.

However, even cultured pearls cannot be perfectly luminous and free of blemishes because they are still produced by nature, not factories.

If you look at the surface of a real pearl, you should spot tiny blemishes such as wrinkles, scratches, and ridges. The shape can be mostly round, but if it is too spherical, that is a sign that it is probably fake.

Other imperfections to look out for are slight differences between the pearls in a string of jewelry. Real pearls will have slight differences in shape, size, and color, while fake pearls will look completely uniform.

Another source of imperfections that can help you identify if a pearl is fake or not is the color and luster. Real pearls have a luminous luster, meaning that they reflect some light, but it is muted.

If the luster is too bright, that could be a tell-tale sign that the pearl is made of glass. Real pearls also don’t have a uniform color, as most will have an overtone and some depth of shade. Most pearls that are pure white are fake, but this is not necessarily true for all pearls.

Can You Definitively Tell if Pearls Are Real with One Test?

While there are several factors that you can account for when examining pearls to try and determine if they are real or not, no one test can give you a definitive answer. The problem is that there is no one way for either fake or real pearls to be.

Real pearls vary greatly in their color, weight, and appearance depending on their grading and cultivation method, while fake pearls can look and feel very different depending on their material.

The safest way to tell is to use a combination of the tests mentioned above, research the sellers, and, if you’re really unsure, send the pearls to a testing laboratory.

About the Author


I am a pearl and oyster enthusiast who loves to share her knowledge and experiences about fashion with the world. I am neither a certified gemologist nor a reseller of pearls.

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