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Are my pearls real?

Are my pearls real?  It’s a good question and one I get asked frequently on valuations.

Firstly let’s address the word ‘real’…

Multi-colour Freshwater Pearl Necklace

The vast majority of pearls are cultured, this means that they have come into being by human interaction. The oyster or mollusc has an irritant inserted into it’s shell which then becomes the pearl’s nucleus as it is encased by many layers of nacre. This process had been mastered by the Chinese from as early as 13th Century but not used commercially till 1893, by the 1920’s most pearls on the market were cultured.

Cultured pearls can then be further divided into Freshwater, Akoya and South-sea pearls, but that’ll have to be a whole other blog!

Pink Freshwater Pearl Drop Earrings

Silver and Pink Freshwater Pearl Drop Earrings

South-Sea Pearl Studs

Gold-coloured South Sea Pearl Earrings set with Diamonds in 18ct Yellow Gold

White Round Akoya Pearl Pendant in White Gold

Naturally formed pearls do exist of course – but they are rare.

So cultured pearls are ‘real’ pearls – imitation or fake pearls are not.

Fakes and Faux Pearls 

There is a wide range of faux pearls around, these are essentially beads coated to imitate natural pearls.

Professional opinion is of course always best but here are some tips to spot imitations.

The tooth test – a lot of people are aware of it’s existence but not many are sure of it’s actual results meaning.

If you very gently rub a faux pearl on your front tooth it will feel smooth, if you do the same with a real pearl it will feel slightly gritty -this is because you can feel the overlapping layers of the pearl’s creation. An imitation pearl will have been coated with a single layer – therefore feeling smooth. Gently means gently, don’t damage your pearls by over-enthusiastic rubbing!

With magnification the drill hole of a pearl is also another good indication. One coating may be seen here – like the below image.

Imitation Pearl Drill Hole

The surface condition can also be quite telling, again damage to a bead showing a single layer would be an imitation pearl.

Damage to imitation pearls

Although not based on any science, the care and attention given to a piece can also give you an idea, if the pearls are knotted together beautifully on silk it’s a good sign – if there is no knotting, or sporadic knots, the piece is less likely to be valuable. Of course the same is true of the clasp, closure or fittings – if there is a hallmark for gold or platinum etc, then pearls are more likely to be real.. this of course isn’t definitive.

Looking at jewellery always involves a bit of detective work, it’s something I love about my job.

Whether your pearls turn out to be the real deal or costume, wear them and enjoy them!

Natalie x

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