The 7-Step Check-up Technique: How to Identify Real Pearls

Not many jewellery pieces confer that distinctive note of elegance that pearls are renowned for. Real pearls are coveted organic gems desired by women worldwide. Pure grains of beauty, pearls have charmed generation after generation for centuries.

Their seductive charm extends through centuries of history, casting a long-lasting spell on anyone who has ever set eyes on a real pearl necklace. What of fake pearls, otherwise dubbed faux pearls, synthetic pearls or semi-cultured pearls?

While they may be perfect lookalikes, faux pearls are far less valuable. The gentle, warm lustre of real pearls is lost on fake pearls. The lustre of pearls is just one of the factors that set the organic gems apart from their less alluring lookalikes.

We’ve created the step-by-step guide to help you set apart real pearls from faux pearls. ‘A woman needs ropes and ropes of pearls’, said Coco Channel. Find more about the step-by-step technique to identifying real pearls and create your own heirloom collection of ropes and ropes of pearls. Don’t overlook taking proper care of your pearls if you wish them to stay in your family for generations.

  1. Brief Introduction
  2. How to Identify a Real Pearl
    1. Temperature
    2. Surface Characteristics & Lustre
    3. Colour
    4. Shape
    5. Surface Feel
    6. Drill Holes
    7. Weight
  3. Pearl Types
    1. Freshwater Pearls
    2. Saltwater Pearls
  4. Cultured vs. Natural Pearls
  5. Real Pearl Value
    1. Colour
    2. Shape, Size, Lustre, Matching
  6. Conclusion

1. Brief Introduction

Introduction - how to identify real pearls

Our guide will walk you through the distinctive qualities of real pearls, whether natural or cultured. You’ll find on-the-spot details on pearl properties that really make these organic gems so special.

The following section is a go-to concise guide on the exquisite pearl types available on the market today. Read on to find out more about the differences between cultured and natural pearls. Use this knowledge to gain valuable insight on the real worth and value of pearls.

These fascinating timeless gems are a worthwhile investment for the elegant woman with a penchant for feminine, luxurious jewellery. If you ever wondered how one pearl necklace can cost £10,000 while a strikingly similar one costs £40, then this step-by-step guide is for you. Find out what a real pearl should look like, feel like and what its worth is.

2. How to Identify a Real Pearl

Are you the proud owner of a family heirloom made of pearls? Were you charmed by a pearl strand that you wish to buy? Here’s the complete guide to assessing the value of pearls and making the difference between fake pearls and the real deal in just a few quick steps.

2.1. TEMPERATURE

The first contact you have with pearls can be a telltale sign of whether they are real pearls or faux pearls. Temperature is the first key indicator of the authenticity of these gorgeous gems.

Keep in mind that real pearls will feel cold at first contact with the skin. Soon after, they will borrow your body’s temperature and gradually warm up. That gentle warm feeling is a key sign that your pearls are real.

Glass pearls – a variety of fake pearls – have the same cold feeling at first. Nevertheless, the lower temperature persists for longer even when worn against the skin. Plastic pearls are the easiest to spot as fakes. They will maintain room temperature. As such, the pleasant cool feeling of real pearls lacks entirely when it comes to a fake pearl necklace for instance.

2. Real Pearls on Woman's neck

2.2. SURFACE CHARACTERISTICS & LUSTRE

This may sound counter-intuitive. However, you should know that minor imperfections, dents or irregularities on a pearl’s surface are in fact a good sign. Natural or cultured pearls grow in natural environments where they are exposed to a variety of environmental conditions.

These shape up the pearl in unique ways, even if we talk about cultured pearls. Thus, if your pearl strand is made of pearls that have the exact same size, shine, roundness and perfectly polished surface, chances are it’s not a real pearl necklace.

It’s the tiny imperfections that make the difference between real pearls and faux pearls. We will discuss pearl colour soon. Nonetheless, you need to know that as far as a real pearl bracelet is concerned, real pearls will never be the exact same colour even if they come from the same batch.

Be on the lookout for the tiny imperfections and mismatches that confer real pearls their charm and take a moment to check the pearls’ lustre. The deep shine of pearls is called lustre. When light is reflected by the calcium carbonate crystals that make up the pearl, it creates the lustre.

Fake pearls have an unnatural, almost glassy lustre. The glamourous, gentle and toned down lustre of real pearls is incomparably more luxurious. The nacre of the pearl and the lustre of the pearl are two more key indicators for the organic gem’s authenticity.

2.3. COLOUR

The colour test isn’t the most accurate way to assess whether your pearls are the real deal or not, but it provides valuable insight. The colour of a pearl is termed body colour. You have surely spotted gorgeous black pearls or gold pearls during your pearl hunts.

Well, such body colours are met with real pearls too. White is the most common and most desirable body colour of pearls. Creamy pearls, yellow, silver, pink, black or golden pearls follow closely. However, the most important thing to look at is the colour overtone.

Pearl colour overtone

When light is reflected off the surface of the pearl, you should catch a glimpse of a distinctive overtone. Typically rose (in the case of white pearls) or green (in the case of black pearls), the colour overtone is remarkably tricky to imitate.

This translucent colour on the pearl surface confers depth to the gem. While not infallible, colour and the colour overtone can stand between real pearls and fake ones.

2.4. SHAPE

A pearl’s shape is by far one of the most telling clues as to the gem’s authenticity. Take a good look at a pearl’s shape and you may have the answer to the ‘How to tell real pearls from fake ones?’ question.

Popular culture has constructed this image of pearls where each of the gems should be a perfect sphere. It couldn’t be further from the truth. Freshwater pearls have a uniquely baroque look. Imperfect as they are, these pearls are the ideal choice when you’re looking for affordable yet beautiful real pearls.

As for other pearl types, a perfect shape may signal that they’re fake. A perfectly rounded, perfectly smoothed pearl without any imperfections, asperities and which lacks depth is almost certainly not real.

real pearls of different colours

2.5. SURFACE FEEL

Step number five in our step-by-step guide on how to identify real pearls is a long-standing method to test if your pearls are the real deal: the tooth test.

As pearls are organic gems made of layer after layer of crystalline structures adding to the pearls’ nacre, it’s only natural that they should feel a bit gritty. Choose your pearls and rub one against a tooth.

If the surface feels gritty – much like sand grains – the pearl is real. This distinctive trait is difficult to imitate. Thus, faux pearls will always have a perfectly smooth surface feeling to them.

2.6.DRILL HOLES

When it comes to pearls, appearance is everything. The most renowned jewellers can tell the difference between synthetic pearls and real pearls in a few minutes. To the untrained eye, a craftily made faux pearl strand a real pearl strand may look the same.

real pearl holes

Image courtesy of Lindsa’s Art Barn

This is why you need to take a look-under-the-hood approach. Drill holes are quite telling. Specific things to look for include:

  • Drill holes’ edges. Real pearls have sharp drill holes’ edges. Faux pearls will show rounded, rough edges.
  • Chipped paint or coating. During the drilling process, the pressure applied on the pearl may cause paint of coating to chip. This is the specific case of fake pearls. In the case of real pearls, if the nacre is chipped, you will still notice the same lustre and consistency underneath the chipping. A chipping of the nacre puts a dent in the pearl’s value. Nonetheless, you’re at least sure that the pearl is the real deal.
  • Burrs inside the drill hole. When drilled, real pearls will showcase a perfect cylinder allowing the string to pass through. Faux pearls, however, will often form burrs inside the cylinder, depending on the material they’re made of.
  • Knots between the pearls. Each end of a drill hole should be protected by a tiny knot. Knots keep the pearls from rubbing against each other. In the case of real pearl jewellery, this is particularly important as any surface scratch reduces the value of your pearls.

2.7. WEIGHT

Perhaps it’s needless to say, yet we’ll go ahead and say it anyway: real pearls are heavier than faux ones. The weight test should work if you have a reference set of pearls – certainly labelled fake or real. Plastic pearls will feel insubstantial while glass beads disguised as pearls will be heavier than real pearls.

3. Pearl Types

What we collectively refer to as pearls is, in fact, a mesmerising collection of uniquely alluring pearl types, each with their own properties and charm. Here is a short guide to the most sought after pearls in the world.

3.1. FRESHWATER PEARLS

The most affordable and versatile real pearls are freshwater pearls. Grown in the ponds, rivers and lakes of China and other parts of the world, freshwater pearls do not form a bead nucleus as other pearls do.

Thus, these organic beauties have a thicker nacre than Akoya pearls and may grow to be perfectly rounded or have irregular shapes. Yet that’s where part of their timeless charm derives from. While the most common colour of freshwater pearls is white, they can also sport enticing pastel overtones or full body colours.

3.2. Saltwater pearls

Cultured in the seas of Japan, China, Australia, Philippines, Indonesia, French Polynesia, saltwater pearls are the definition of refinement and make gorgeous fine pearl jewellery.

a. Akoya Pearls

Akoya Pearls

Akoya pearls are cultured both in Japan and in China. Typically, their body colour is either white or cream, while their almost perfect spherical shape makes them some of the most desirable pearls to wear. Sometimes, they may be treated to change the body colour from cream or white to full black.

The size of Akoya pearls ranges from 2mm to 10mm. Nevertheless, the latter category is rarely found on the market. The most common size for Akoya pearls is between 7-7.5mm. These are also the best value Akoya pearls. How much are pearls worth? It largely depends on the jeweller, the retailer and the properties identified above.

b. Tahitian Pearls

tahitian real pearl

Their exotic name evokes the sunshine and a gentle glow. Tahitian pearls are among the most luxurious pearls available on the market. Their distinguishing trait is the black body colour. These are the only real pearls that achieve this colour naturally.

However, identifying Tahitian pearls as black pearls is a mistake. These beautiful gems also shine with hues of grey, pale green, purple and blue. Their size ranges from 8mm to 16mm. Although they take their name after Tahiti, these pearls are cultured all across French Polynesia.

Tahitian pearls are available in perfectly rounded shape and baroque shape. The former have a smoother surface feeling as the nacre is almost flawless.

c. South Sea Pearls

South Sea Pearls

South Sea pearls are uniquely prestigious. Their rarity, perfectly shaped nacre, and the luxurious body colours make these gems the most valuable pearls in the world.

Not only are they the largest pearls, but also the most expensive. South Sea pearls’ sizes range from 9mm to 20mm while their colours vary from silver to gold, cream and white. Yet, when we talk of Golden South Sea pearls, we can’t forget to mention that they are indeed exceptional luxury items.

Touted to be rarer than gold, these pearls are produced by the oyster known as Pinctada maxima. With a growth time between 20 and 24 months, South Sea gold pearls are difficult to harvest and thus rarer on the market.

4. Cultured vs. Natural pearls

Natural pearl jewellery sells at incredible prices around the world. One of the factors that contributes to the increased value of natural pearls is that they are very hard to come by today.

Natural pearls are rarely harvested anymore. Nearly all the pearls on the market today are cultured pearls. Nonetheless, both natural pearls and cultured ones are formed through the same process. Pearl-bearing oysters are at the centre of this process in both cases.

When an irritant enters a pearl-bearing oyster, the oyster releases a soothing substance to cover the irritant. This substance is the nacre or the layers of crystals that form the pearl. A natural or cultured pearl is thus the result of the pearl-bearing oyster’s defence mechanism.

The main difference between natural pearls and cultured pearls is that the formation of the latter is aided by human intervention. Farmers insert a tiny bead inside the oyster to mimic the natural irritant and jumpstart the release of the coating substance.

Natural pearls will rarely display the same perfection in terms of shape or size as cultured pearls. This commands considerably higher price tags for the naturally grown pearls. As they’re also a very rare occurrence, natural pearls have retained an air of mysticism and lore dispelled only when a rare pearl jewellery item is showcased at an auction.

5. Real Pearl Value

How much are real pearls worth? This seems to be the buzzing question on everyone’s lips. Truth be told, there is no set price for real pearls, be they freshwater or saltwater grown. Their value and price are largely dependent on a series of factors that we will detail here.

5.1. COLOUR

Are you looking to assess a real pearl necklace price correctly? We would recommend that you consult with a jeweller because the body colour and the overtone of the pearls in your desired strand have a strong influence on the price.

White coloured real pearls are some of the most desirable on the market. Their pure reflection and lustre, often complemented by pink overtones, are regarded as a precious mark. Light cream coloured pearls are next in line while cream pearls are slightly less expensive.

However, black Tahitian pearls raise the bar in terms of price. South Sea Gold pearls and Silver pearls are among the most expensive.

5.2. SHAPE

A perfectly rounded pearl will cost more than an irregularly shaped one. This rule of thumb factors in the unique tiny imperfections that we mentioned in the beginning.

However, the more regular the surface, the higher the value of the pearl.

5.3. SIZE

As each pearl type varies in size, this is q key factor when assessing a real pearl price. The same rule of thumb applies to each pearl category. The larger the pearl, the higher its value. A 1mm larger Akoya pearl will cost 100 % to 200 % more.

These percentages aren’t set in stone. Thus, it’s recommended that you check the price with more than just one retailer or jeweller. A fair assessment will take into account more than just the size of the pearl, be it a freshwater pearl or an Akoya pearl.

5.4. LUSTRE

The lustre of the pearl is, in addition to the pearl’s surface and quality of the nacre, one of the coveted factors in calculating how much is a pearl worth. Lustre is the reflection of light off the real pearl’s surface.

This is the reason why these three ingredients go together in the mix. An imperfect surface will dent the quality of the pearl’s lustre. The thickness of the nacre ensures that your pearls will last for years to come.

A pearl with a thin nacre is more fragile and prone to breaking, chipping or denting. A thick nacre, a nearly flawless pearl surface and a deep glowing lustre raise the value of real pearls.

5.5. MATCHING

Real pearl earrings, a real pearl necklace or a real pearl bracelet that is composed of a string of the organic gems is a beautiful jewellery item to own or gift.

However, if the pearls on the string aren’t matched by a skilful jeweller, the real pearl necklace price may drop considerably. Matching pearls is a form of art, reserved to the very few. While gradation in colour and size will always be noticeable in a pearl strand, a certain uniformity will be observed. Real pearls are carefully chosen to match each other side-by-side.

This is why fake pearls are easily noticeable. They are too perfect and lack the uniquely distinctive traits of real pearls.

All these five factors are key to correctly assessing the worth and value of real pearls. Next time you ponder purchasing a matinee pearl necklace, you’ll know exactly what you’re after.

6. Conclusion

Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but pearls can successfully contest this spot. Forever elegant, always appropriate, sophisticated and chic, pearls make the ideal gifts for you and your loved ones. With the help of this step-by-step guide on identifying real pearls and assessing their value, you’ll never have to worry about falling for fakes.

Image Sources: Creamy pearl necklaces, White pearl necklace, Real pearls,

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