The Jewelry Judge – Identifying Pearls


Jewelry Judge Ben Gordon - Pearl IDPearl is the Birthstone for June and the 30th wedding anniversary. The Jewelry Judge shares his knowledge and experience with clients everyday.

How do you tell the difference between a natural pearl and its cultured cousins?

Do you know the difference between freshwater cultured pearls and Japanese Akoya?

Pear Necklace

The most valuable cultured pearls are saltwater pearls that originate from oysters of the Pinctada family and include Akoya, Tahitian and South Sea varieties.  They are prized for their nacre, the iridescent outer layer of the pearl, and satiny luster.

Pinctada fucata is the species of oyster used by Kokichi Mikimoto, the Japanese pearl farmer and entrepreneur credited with creating the first cultured pearl.

OysterCultured pearls are created by taking a spherical bead nucleus, inserting it into the oyster to provide a catalyst around which the nacre grows, forming a pearl. If a bead nucleus is present when looking down the drill hole, this is confirmation of a cultured origin.

Pearl StrandsChina uses mussels in farming the freshwater cultured pearls they produce in large quantities. Freshwater pearls are usually more affordable than saltwater cultured pearls and they are available in a wide range of prices, shapes, sizes and colors. Tissue-nucleated freshwater pearls are mainly baroque with some variations while bead-nucleated pearls are mostly semi-round to round.

There are many pearl look-a-likes (imitations) on the market including plastic, shell-coated beads, mother-of-pearl beads and even glass beads that contain ground fish scales called ‘essence d’orient’.

Identifying Pearls:

  1. Rub the pearl across your front tooth, it should feel gritty, not smooth.
  2. Rub two pearls of a strand together, once again they should feel gritty, not smooth.
  3. Evaluate the drill hole. The pearl’s drilled hole is a smooth cross cut, while the faux bead will have a punched out appearance.
  4. Cultured pearls are not perfect in appearance. Faux beads are perfectly round and smooth without defects.
  5. Over time paint chips may be noted as faux beads age.
  6. Weight of cultured pearls is heavier than faux beads.

 

The sizes of cultured akoyas overlap those of freshwater pearls, but the superior luster and surface quality of akoyas will stand out when compared to freshwater pearls.

Caution:

  1. Be on the lookout for treatments that are used to enhance color. Inexpensive freshwater cultured pearls may be dyed black to imitate Tahitians or dyed gold to simulate South Sea golden pearls.
  2. Inspect the exterior surface of the pearl for concentrations of dye, or peer down the drill hole to determine if dyed after drilling.
  3. Sometimes lighter-colored Tahitians may be dyed or the bead nucleus irradiated so the pearl appears black.

Identifying pearl types and treatments can be a complex task.
See the Judge and he will share his expertise during a consultation.

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