Fashion Law

How to tell if a pearl is real

Can you distinguish imitation pearls from genuine pearls?

I recently posted Chanel pearls on my Instagram account, which reminded me that given the high price and popularity, Chanel “pearls” are often mistaken as real pearls.
Guide to Pearls image of pearls in a jewelry box
Pearls can be saltwater, freshwater, or faux (as in imitation or fake).  
The tooth test is a theory that authentic pearls will not scratch against a tooth. That idea is not entirely true: freshwater pearls can scratch against teeth but saltwater pearls will not. The nacre of the saltwater pearl is much more compact.

Natural pearls are either freshwater or saltwater. The names themselves are telling of where they grow. Pearls are created as a reaction to the presence of a foreign object such as a grain of sand that causes irritation inside of a living mollusk or oyster. Nacre is secreted within the shell and forms around the irritant. This process creates a natural pearl. 

Cultured pearls go through the same natural process but are the result of material being transplanted into shells. Cultured pearls can be created using freshwater or saltwater shells. Most saltwater cultured pearls are stimulated with implanted beads. The trade name of these cultured pearls are Akoya Pearls (popular at Tiffany & Co.), White or Golden South Sea Pearls, and Tahitian (or “Black”) Pearls. The majority of cultured pearls created without beads are mantle-grown in freshwater shells in China, known as “freshwater cultured pearls.”

Saltwater pearls are generally more expensive than freshwater pearls because of the time it takes for them to form. A saltwater pearl may take between 5 and 20 years to form; whereas, a freshwater pearl can form between 1 and 6 years. Cultured pearls injected with beads are commonly harvested after one year for Akoya, 2 to 4 years for Tahitian and South Sea, and 2 to 7 years for freshwater pearls. 

Chanel Pearls

Chanel pearls are pricey but they are relatively conservatively priced (in the pearl world). If these long strands of large pearls were genuine instead of glass they would easily triple in price. 

Below is some freshwater pearl jewelry ranging from $150 to $425. Can you guess the prices?

Faux or imitation pearls are created using materials such as shell, plastic, resin, and glass. Imitation pearls are sometimes referred to as “man made” or “stimulated.” Imitation pearls are so smooth that they are unrealistically perfect. 

Tiffany diamond and Tahitian Keshi pearl earrings
Do you think these are natural or imitation pearls?

Natural pearls are gritty. In the U.S., the FTC sets how imitation pearls must be worded for sale:

FTC Pearl Disclosure Example
Pearl necklace photo
Additional pearl facts:
  • Pearls are primarily composed of calcium carbonate so they dissolve in vinegar
  • Real pearls maintain luster and may look better with age
  • Fake pearls lose their luster 
  • Real pearls are heavier than fake ones
  • Gem labs distinguish natural pearls from cultured ones via X-rays to examine the center growth rings of a pearl
  • The basic pearl shapes are: baroque, button, circled, drop, oval, pear, round, and semi-round. 

Do you own any pearls?

I tend to prefer diamonds over pearls but since my work wardrobe is classic and conservative I am interested in growing my collection of pearls.

♥ Thanks for reading and supporting my blog! 

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