Are My Pearls Real?

We consistently hear the question – "How do I ensure my pearls are real?" from guests.

We believe that if you purchase your pearls from a reputable jeweler, like Zales, you can be assured they are real. However, there are also ways you can check for yourself.

1. Look for slight imperfections.

"Real" pearls are very rarely perfect. Usually they will have slight imperfections, small blemishes or an irregular shape. The outer layer of the pearl, or the nacre, will reflect light differently as the pearl is turned. Conversely, imitation pearls are usually too "perfect." They will be perfectly round and the surface will show no imperfections.

While perfectly round pearls can be real, they are also quite rare. And strands of pearls are hardly ever made with perfect pearls. Such a strand would be extremely costly. Realistically, if a strand of pearls both looks perfect and is inexpensive, the pearls may be simulated or fake.

2. Look for a sharp luster.

"Luster" is the way a jeweler would describe the light reflected from a pearl and a pearl's luster is what makes it so desirable. High quality pearls will have a strong, bright and clear luster and will shine, almost like the light is coming from within, when light hits them. With lustrous pearls, you can usually see your own reflection.

3. Look for an overtone.

Good quality pearls are prized for their overtones. An overtone is the subtle color that is visible on the outer surface when exposed to light. Silver is the most popular white pearl overtone, while rose is the most traditional. Ivory overtones give pearls an almost vintage look and are also a favorite.

Simulated or imitation pearls will generally not have a visible overtone. Their surface will look shiny, but flat and without depth.

4. Look around the pearl drill hole.

Pearls strung along a strand will have holes drilled for the silk string to pass through. A real pearl will have well‐defined edges (like a hollow cylinder). Imitation or simulated pearls often have rough or rounded edges. Also look for chipped paint or coating around the hole. As fake pearls rub against each other, some paint or coating will wear away, allowing you to see the plastic or glass base underneath.

5. Disclosure at the time of sale.

Genuine pearls must, by law, be described as "natural" or "cultured" pearls. If a pearl is a fake, it must be described as "imitation" or "simulated." Look at the small print on the advertisement or on the counter card for this information.

Is a cultured pearl a real pearl?

In a word, yes.

Over 99% of the "real" pearls sold today are cultured pearls. These pearls are created the old fashioned way, but with a little assistance from man. There are many varieties of cultured pearls, including freshwater, saltwater, Tahitian and South Sea pearls.

A cultured pearl is a real pearl grown in a shellfish or mollusk. Instead of waiting for an irritant, like a piece of sand or small rock, to enter the shell, they are "seeded" by hand and in large quantities, using a bit of shell from a sacrificed mollusk. Over time, layer upon layer of nacre forms around the inserted irritant, forming a natural, cultured pearl. The process to create a pearl takes from one to three years, depending on the variety.

Freshwater pearls are more abundant because the mollusks used are able to create 6‐8 pearls at once inside the mother shell, and can be used over and over again. Saltwater pearls are rarer, as the mollusks can only create a single pearl at a time. Saltwater mollusks also cannot make a pearl more than once, so they are sacrificed as seed for new pearl creation.

The cultivation of pearls has led to a greater abundance of these stunning and lustrous beauties. Large pearl farms, such as those used by Mikimoto and Honora, ensure that pearls are an affordable luxury for everyone.