How to tell if

Pearls are Real

Whether you’re purchasing a pearl necklace or picking out a pair of pearl earrings, you want to be sure that the pearls you are investing in are the genuine article.

While most pearls you buy are sure to be authentic, there are plenty of pearl counterfeits on the market, usually made from glass or plastic beads coated with a fish scale mixture known as ‘essence of the orient’ or ‘pearl essence’. Some imitations can be so realistic, even the experts can be fooled.

So how can you tell whether a pearl is real or fake?

We’ve put together a few handy tips on how to spot an imitation.

Do a quick temperature check

One of the first things you can do to determine whether pearls are real or not is to check the temperature by touching them. Real pearls are initially cool to the touch, taking a few seconds to warm up against your skin, whereas fake, plastic pearls are usually room temperature, so they won’t feel as cool when you touch them.

One exception to the rule, however, is fake pearls made from glass beads. These tend to be cool to the touch, but take longer to warm up against your skin than real pearls do.

perform the ‘tooth test’

One of the easiest ways to check for imitation pearls is to perform the ‘tooth test’. Both natural and cultured pearls have a textured surface due to layer upon layer of nacre, the pearly substance secreted by the mantle of certain molluscs to form a pearl. To test whether pearls are the real thing, lightly rub them along the biting edge of your upper-front teeth. You’re looking for a rough, gritty texture, so if the pearls feel smooth or glassy they are probably fake.

Begin to scratch the surface

When you examine real pearls up close or under a magnifying glass, you should be able to spot tiny imperfections and ridges on the surface of each one. In a strand of cultured pearls, you will notice some very minor differences between each and every pearl, even when they are top quality and well matched.

A completely perfect pearl is extremely rare, not to mention valuable, so if you have a whole string of perfectly identical pearls it’s a sure sign that they are fake.

Look out for overtones

Natural and cultured pearls will often have an overtone; rings of colour that appear on the outer surface of a pearl to give it its beautiful lustre. One way to examine your pearls’ overtones is to place them in water, which acts as a magnifier. If you don’t notice any overtones in your pearls, or if they are all one uniform colour, it is fairly likely that they are not real. However, it’s worth nothing noting that some real pearls also have no overtones, so this method alone should not be used to check for authenticity.

Spot a sham by its shape

When most of us imagine a pearl, we picture a perfectly round gem with a high lustre. However, the reality is, most real pearls are rarely round. A strand of cultured pearls that are perfectly round would command an extremely high price due to their rarity. So if your pearls are perfectly round, and you haven’t paid a fortune for them, the likelihood is they are not the real thing.

Weigh up the evidence

Real pearls are typically heavier than their fake counterparts. To test this, simply hold the pearl in the palm of your hand and lightly bounce it up and down to gauge how heavy it is. Real pearls will feel particularly heavy for their size, while fake plastic pearls will feel unusually light. However, it’s worth nothing that fake pearls made from glass beads will also feel heavy so again, this shouldn’t be the only method you use to test your pearls.

Examine the drill holes

Another way to spot a fake is by examining the drill holes. On real pearls, drill holes are usually kept very small in order to cause the least damage possible to the precious gem. Imitation pearls, on the other hand, will often have much larger drill holes. On further inspection, under magnification, you will also be able to see that the coating around the drill holes of fake pearls will be thin and looks like a shiny paint.

You can often see flakes or chipped coating around the drill holes that will eventually peel off.

Authentic pearls guaranteed

At Absolute Pearls, we do not sell any imitation or fake pearls; we only stock freshwater and saltwater cultured pearls. So you can be sure that the pearls you are purchasing are the real deal.

For more help and advice on how to buy the perfect pearl necklace, have a read of Absolute Pearls’ Pearl Necklace Buying Guide [link to follow], or feel free to email us at