February 13, 2024 5 min read

Pearls have been admired for thousands of years, and for good reason. These exquisite gems possess timeless beauty and symbolize only desirable qualities – eternal love, loyalty, and wisdom. So, it’s no wonder many people consider pearls nature’s most captivating creations.

But not all pearls come from the depths of the ocean or serene freshwater habitats.

Some are created by people, earning them a not-so-flattering moniker of “fake” pearls. To an untrained eye, genuine and fake pearls might appear indistinguishable. However, a closer lookand a few other handy testscan reveal many differences between the two.

Keep reading to learn how to distinguish between genuine and fake pearls.

The 7 Major Differences Between Genuine Pearls and Fake Pearls

Before diving into the differences between genuine and fake pearls, let’s discuss how each type comes to be. Knowing the origin of genuine and fake pearls is crucial, as virtually all their distinctions stem from the fundamental difference in their creation.

Genuine pearls result from an intricate natural process in which an irritant (often a grain of sand) enters a mollusk’s shell. The mollusk responds to this intrusion by coating the irritant in a layer of a smooth and iridescent substance called nacre. These layers keep accumulating over time, ultimately forming a pearl.

Fake pearls, on the other hand, are typically manufactured using a bead from materials like plastic, glass, or ceramic. This bead is then coated with a pearlescent substance to mimic the appearance of natural pearls.

Having armed you with this valuable knowledge, let’s delve into the differences between genuine and fake pearls.

1. Genuine Pearls Aren’t Smooth

When most people hear the word “pearls,” they picture tiny, smooth, and lustrous spheres. But the truth is that genuine pearls aren’t smooth. They come with subtle ridges and creases, giving them a slightly gritty feel. In contrast, fake pearls are entirely smooth.

2. Genuine Pearls Aren’t Perfectly Round

Genuine pearls often deviate from perfect symmetry. This means you’ll have difficulty finding a perfectly round pearl like those often depicted in popular images. Sure, some genuine pearls can be as close to perfectly round as possible, but most show slight variations or come in distinctive shapes like oval, baroque, or pear.

3. Genuine Pearls Are Unique

No two pearls will ever be identical. After all, they are created by nature’s hand, which rarely repeats itself. So, most natural pearls vary in size, shape, lustre, and colour. So, let’s say you have a bracelet composed of pearls identical in size, weight, and shade. Bad news you have a fake pearl bracelet.

4. Genuine Pearls Have a Unique Lustre

If you’ve ever laid your eyes on a genuine pearl, you’ll know that its radiance can’t be duplicated. This lustre will create a play of light and colour on the surface of the genuine pearl, as opposed to fake pearls that will always look matte, uniform, and somewhat dull.

5. Genuine Pearls Feature Smaller Drill Holes

When talking about pearls used in a jewellery piece, you can often tell whether they’re real by looking at the drill holes. With genuine pearls, jewellers are significantly more careful, trying to preserve their integrity. That’s why the drill holes are often tiny and neat. Of course, with fake pearls, there’s no reason for such precision, so these gems often feature larger, uneven, and less refined holes. Sometimes, you can even see chipped paint around the drill hole.

6. Genuine Pearls Are Heavier

In most cases, genuine pearls will be heavier than their fake counterparts. However, fake pearl manufacturers have also begun using heavier composite materials to imitate the weight of genuine pearls, so weight alone isn’t always a foolproof indicator of authenticity.

7. Genuine Pearls Are Colder

Regardless of the current weather, genuine pearls will initially feel cold to the touch. Then, as you wear them, they’ll adjust to your body temperature, thanks to their unique thermal properties. In contrast, most imitation pearls will feel warmer initially and maintain consistent room temperature whether in use or not.

How to Tell Genuine Pearls from Fake Pearls

Now that you know how to differentiate between genuine and fake pearls in theory, let’s put this knowledge into practice with a more hands-on approach.

1. Perform a Visual Inspection

Most of the differences between natural and artificial pearls concern their appearance. So, the first thing you should do when determining a pearl’s authenticity is to perform a visual inspection. If the pearls are a little too perfect, they’re likely fake.

2. Perform a Sound Inspection

It might sound silly, but how the pearls sound is a huge indicator of whether they’re real. So, grab the piece of jewellery you’re inspecting and knock its beads together. The pearls are probably fake if you hear a hollow, tin-like sound. When knocked together, genuine pearls will sound more like a soft, muted thud.

3. Hold the Pearls in Your Hands

Holding the pearls in your hands can help you determine two factors their weight and texture. If they’re slightly heavier and sandy to the touch, you’re likely dealing with the real thing.

4. Do the Drop Test

Real pearls will bounce when dropped. So, naturally, you can test your pearls’ authenticity by dropping them on a glass or marble surface from a height of approximately 2 feet. If they bounce at least a foot, they should be genuine.

5. Do the Rub Test

Sometimes, simply looking at pearls (and even touching them) isn’t enough to determine whether they’re genuine. Given how advanced manufacturing technologies have become, this shouldn’t be surprising.

If so, you should try the so-called “rub test.” To do so, you can rub two pearls against each other and see if they form a fine powder. Alternatively, rub the pearls against your teeth to see if you feel any grit. Both the powder and the gritty feel are indicative of a genuine pearl.

6. Use a Naked Flame

More advanced artificial pearls call for more dramatic tests. If you want to be 100% sure your pearls are natural, expose them to a naked flame for a minute or two. Genuine pearls will remain intact and produce no odours. The same can’t be said for fake pearls, which create a burning smell and quickly lose their lustre.

7. Consult the Professionals

If all else fails, you can always have your pearls professionally appraised. A jeweller or a gemologist should be able to remove any doubts about the authenticity of your pearls. The same goes for subjecting pearls to an X-ray, but this method is typically reserved for high-value pearls.

Genuine Pearls for the Win

Genuine pearls might be more expensive than their fake counterparts, but their inherent beauty, uniqueness, and durability make them a worthy investment. After all, few jewellery pieces can look as timeless and elegant as those featuring natural pearls. That’s why at Trove & Co., we only use genuine freshwater pearls for our jewellery, infusing some aquatic chic into your style. Shop our elegant pearl earrings or dainty necklaces featuring organic pearls today.