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Method 1 : Using Visual Tests

  • Look for minor imperfections. Real pearls are only rarely "perfect". Usually, they'll have small blemishes or irregularities in their shape. Their outer nacre layer may also reflect light differently on different parts of the pearl. Imitation pearls are almost always "too perfect" — they look perfectly spherical, they have the same amount of luster on every part of the surface and show no indents or imperfections. 
  • Check for a sharp, healthy luster. Luster is a way that jewelers describe the type of light reflected from a precious stone. A pearl's luster is part of what makes it so beautiful. Good-quality pearls should have a bright, clear luster that makes them shine when light hits them. If you look closely, you should be able to see your own reflection on the pearl's surface.
  • Check for an overtone. Good-quality pearls are often prized for their overtones — the subtle color that is visible on their outer surface when light hits them. Fake pearls will usually not have this overtone effect, which is tricky to duplicate. Thus, if your pearl seems very slightly shaded with color when light hits it, there is a good chance it's real. Rose and ivory are two of the most desired overtones for white pearls, though a wide variety of colors are possible, especially for dark pearls.
    • Since some real pearls don't have a visible overtone, not seeing an overtone on your pearl isn't necessarily a sure sign that it's fake.
  • Look for clues around the drill hole. Pearls on a strand or necklace will usually have holes drilled in them for the string to pass through. Examining this hole carefully can help you tell whether your pearl is real or not. Specific things you'll want to look for include:
    • Well-defined edges to the hole. Real pearls usually have drill holes with sharp edges (like a hollow cylinder). Fakes often have rough or rounded edges. However, old and well-worn real pearls may also have rounded edges to their holes. Fake pearls may also bow outward at the surface of the pearl, rather than being perfectly cylindrical.
    • Chipped paint or coating around the hole. As fake pearls rub against each other with repeated use, their artificial coating can wear away around the holes. You may be able to see slivers of glass or plastic underneath. This is a sure sign of a fake.

Method 2: Using Touch Tests

  • Rub the pearls against your front teeth ( Or gently scrape the surface of the pearl with a small knife ). Hold one or two pearls between your thumb and forefinger and press them gently into the biting edge of your front teeth. Rub them against your teeth with a side-to-side motion. A real pearl will usually have a slightly rough or gritty texture from tiny scale-like imperfections in its outer layers of nacre. Fake pearls made from glass or plastic will usually be almost perfectly smooth.
  • Rub the pearls against each other. Hold a few pearls in your fingers and gently rub them against each other. Feel for the slight sensation of friction. Real pearls will usually generate a little friction when they rub against each other because their outer layers of nacre are not perfectly smooth. Fake pearls, on the other hand, often have smooth coatings and will usually glide past each other when rubbed together.
  • Check whether the pearls are perfectly round. Because they're products of nature, every real pearl is slightly different, just like snowflakes or fingerprints. Most pearls won't be perfect spheres — they'll usually be slightly oblong or have minor defects. If your pearls look perfectly round to you, there's a good chance they're artificial.
    • It is possible for real pearls to be perfectly round. However, examples of these are very rare and usually fetch a high price.
    • Not sure whether a pearl is perfectly round or not? Try carefully rolling it on a flat surface. Imperfect pearls won't consistently roll in a straight line.
  • Feel the weight of the pearl in your hand. Carefully bounce one or two pearls in your hand to get an idea of how much they weigh. Most real pearls feel somewhat heavy for their size. On the other hand, fakes (especially plastic pearls) will have a light, insubstantial feel.
    • For obvious reasons, this test isn't perfect — judging the weight of a few small pearls can be tricky. For best results, you may want to compare your pearls with a set you know are real or fake. Always verify with another test no matter how sure you are of a pearl's weight.