Updated: Dec 31, 2021
Pearls are often a good traditional choice for Brides on their wedding day - whether it’s their something borrowed, something new or something gifted from Grandma.
Pearls have always been fashionable and worn by the rich and famous and gained renewed popularity as people flocked to emulate Jacky Kennedy, Queen Elizabeth and Diana Princess of Wales.
You only have to look on Ebay, Etsy or the like to see vintage pearls from the Art Deco and Flapper Eras of the 20’s through to the 50’s up for grab. These can be in single, double and triple graduated and non graduated stands and may be advertised as faux, simulated, shell based, freshwater, saltwater or simply just “genuine”. They can be offered in different lengths given in cm, inches or description (Chocker, Princess, Maninee, Opera or Rope). It can all be a bit confusing as to what exactly you are buying and how much you should pay or how valuable your pearls are for insurance.
Sometimes pearls are handed down through families and you may be fortunate enough to be in one of these families and be gifted or allowed to borrow a set of “Grandma” pearls. But the big question is are they real or not, how careful do you need to be with these beauties of the sea? Ultimately, if they are a family heirloom you might ask does it even matter. I inherited a brooch when my Nan died, and I knew it was just a costume piece but it was one she really liked and I had seen her wearing when she was alive. I wore it on my wedding day on my garter because it was something my Nan loved and I wanted something of her with me on the day - the monetary value was totally insignificant. My daughter also borrowed it to wear on her wedding day. Nan would have been pleased!
But if you do want to try to work out if those pearls are real or not here are a few tips to start with. Just remember that technology today can produce some very convincing fakes but if your pearls are vintage you may have a better chance of sorting the real from the fake.
1) Double Knotted
A big indicator of whether the pearls are real or fake can be the way the pearls have been strung. To protect the very sought after fine Nacre (outer coating) of the pearl genuine real pearls are often knotted in-between each and every one, to keep them from rubbing against each other and damaging that all too precious Nacre. Fake (glass, plastic or shell based) pearls often have no knots in-between and sit directly against each other.
Genuine real pearls will usually feel a bit cool if you touch them, whereas fake pearls will be room temperature.
3)Color and Luster
Just as our natural skin tone varies over our body so does the colour and tone of natural peals, so real pearls will not be perfectly unison in colour and tone with some inconsistency and imperfections, fake pearls will look unusually perfect! Luster is one of the most important sought over characteristics of pearls in terms of value and is a result of how think the Nacre is - the thicker the better because this is where the beautiful lustrous shine that pearls are know for comes from. Being natural pearls are porous and need moisture and absorb body oils to stop them drying out, so the more you wear your pearls the better they are loved and their beauty protected. So older pearls that haven’t been worn can dry out and look a bit yellowed or old even if they are real. As a rule of thumb fake peals will be quite “flat” looking with no genuine shine or life in them.
Fake pearls will be perfectly symmetrical and round because that’s how they were manufactured. Nature on the other hand likes to create unique individuals, so being born in the water (Salt or Fresh) genuine real pearls are not identical to each other and wont be perfectly round (even if they appear so at first glance). So take a really close look at them, rotate them in your fingers and feel - are there any little bumps, blemishes, unevenness or irregularities? You may need to use a jewellers loupe to see any actual blemishes, bumps, bands, ridges or pitting which are all signs the pearl was grown naturally and not manufactured.
5) Teeth Test
Gently rub the pearls back and forth against your upper teeth and see if they feel a bit gritty or smooth. Your upper teeth are more sensitive and if the pearls feel a bit gritty like sand they are real, if they feel totally smooth and like glass they are fake.
6) Drill Holes
It can be difficult to see so you will probably need that jewellers loupe again but the drill holes may give you a clue if you can see inside. To preserve the weight and quality of the pearl the drill holes of real pearls will usually be small and sharp. If you can see inside there will be a dark dividing line separating the centre nucleus from the layers of Nacre. Fake peals will just be all the one colour, usually lighter and probably have a larger drill hole.
7. Professional Evaluation
Get them professionally appraised and valued by a Gemologist or manufacturing Jeweller. You never know they could be worthless or worth a fortune. If they turn out to be real and valuable - you will probably want to insure them.
So whether they are real or fake, borrowed, bought or gifted - enjoy wearing your gorgeous pearls on your wedding day and have a wonderful marriage!