Pearls have become almost a staple for brides around the world and deservedly so. Pearls are a symbol of purity and elegance. However, buying pearls can be a tricky thing. Faux pearls are often very well made, which makes it very hard to tell if you are buying the real thing or not. Faux pearls can be distinguished by their name: simulated, faux, glass, plastic, resin, artificial, manmade. There are two kinds of real pearls—natural and cultured. Natural pearls are very rare and very expensive; one of the only ways to tell a natural from a cultured is with an x-ray. Both kinds go through the same process, however the cultured pearls has a little help from man. That said cultured pearls are still real pearls and they make up the majority of the market. Cultured pearls can be freshwater or saltwater. Typically saltwater pearls are more expensive. Freshwater pearls are available in a far wider color range than saltwater, including purple, violet, orange, blue and gray. They are cheaper to produce as each mollusk can yield up to 30 pearls per harvest! To further confuse things, there are also shell pearls and genuine pearls which have had treatments applied to them, such as coatings or faceting. In general, the highest prices will be paid for large, round, well colored, unenhanced gems. Factors that influence value in pearl jewelry pieces would add to these general considerations, quality of stringing and degree of matching in size and color. To get the most out of your money, you need to make sure you know the quality of the pearls you are buying. Here are some ways to tell.
How much do they weigh?
Real pearls are heavier for their size than plastic, resin, or hollow glass pearls. Good glass fakes will have the same density are real pearls. If you have a light pearl, it is defiantly a fake. Since good fake pearls are made the same weight as real pearls you need a few more ways to tell.
What do they look like?
Faux pearls tend to look ‘flat’ in comparison to the real thing. There are exceptions, of course, with beautiful simulated pearls. However, real pearls tend not to be perfect and may have bands in their nacre, bumps, ridges, or pits. They vary in size and shape from one to another. Real pearls come in many shapes, but they tend not to be perfectly round, so a perfect sphere should be suspect. Expensive genuine pearls may be round, but you will have other clues to help you make a determination. Some fakes are made to look irregular, and glass pearls often have flattened ends or slightly oval shapes.
Do they warm to the skin?
Genuine pearls tend to warm to the skin much faster than glass pearls. Resin or plastic pearls tend to feel somewhat warm upon first contact.
Hold them under the sun.
Take your pearls out into the sun or hold them under very bright indoor lighting. Unless they are very expensive, genuine pearls won’t be perfectly matched under the sun. You will be able to see variations in their iridescence (orient) and color. If the pearls are perfectly matched for color and overtones, they are most probably faux.
What kind of settings does it have?
Real pearls are more likely to have settings of gold, silver, or platinum than faux pearls. You can examine clasps for stamps or engravings in the metal or for magnetism (indicating the clasp or setting contains iron as opposed to a precious metal). Clasps tend to have safety mechanisms, like fish hooks, but some real pearls are sold with other types of clasps, usually as an accommodation for a person who would have difficulty opening/closing the more secure clasp. However, insecure clasps are not usually seen on good pearls. It isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. Some fakes have high quality settings. Some genuine pearls have cheap settings. Even so, the setting can provide clues to help you reach a conclusion
Caring for your pearls
Pearls are sensitive to heat, chemicals and abrasion, they should be stored in a cloth bag or their own box away from contact with other materials. They should be protected from chemicals such as hairspray and perfume. Wiping them with a damp cloth after wearing and occasional cleaning in mild soapy water is all that’s required.