Pearls real or fake? That IS the question: how to tell the difference between a real and a fake pearl

You have discovered what a pearl is and how a pearl is formed. Having skated past the difference between saltwater an freshwater pearls, we are now ready to tackle the BIG question, one that is put to me almost every week, “how do I know if a pearl is authentic, how can I tell if my pearls are real or imitation?”

Firstly, let’s clarify what we mean by real pearls. To most people this would mean a pearl which is made by a mollusc either wild or cultured, as a saltwater or freshwater pearl, as opposed to fake or imitation, which is man made.  Strictly speaking, a real pearl is a pearl which is formed in nature and the only human involvement is to find it, hence a real pearl should be a natural pearl.  But for the sake of simplicity in this Blog let’s talk about natural and cultured pearls vs. imitation or fake pearls or beads.

slide13 copy

“My pearls are old, they were given to me by my grandmother … so they MUST be real!” – Think again!

The first ever imitation pearls were worn by Elizabeth I who wore wax filled Venetian glass beads with an iridescent finish. These were sewn onto her dress in the 1600’s . They were the first “pearl impostors” and at the time they cost 1 penny each.

The first fake pearl, as we know it today, was created in France by Mr Jacquin who concentrated fish slime from a Bleak and mixed it with varnish in the 17th Century. He called it “Essence of Orient”. This method is still used to this day to make man made fish slime covered plastic beads, the main producer of which is Majorica. The fish slime that is used today comes from salmon and herring.

There is another method to produce imitation or fake pearls: coating plastic beads with acrylic paint. A factor worth considering is that this coating will easily chip off.

Recently a  new type of imitation pearl has entered the marketplace. They are deceptively called “semi-cultured pearls” or “shell pearls” both of which are misnomers. These new imitations are made with crushed mother of pearl mixed with resin, aka plastic. If they have overtones, these will be uniform throughout the strand.

Imitation “pearls” cannot enhance the beauty of the wearer nor attract the eye of the beholder in the same way that true pearls do, as the calcium carbonate crystal structure needed for a pearl to glow is not present. This also means that imitations have no play of light, reflection, refraction, colour or overtones.

Do not be deceived by imitation pearls; they might be expensively designed, packaged or even have individual certificates, but they have no lustre or inner glow. They shine on the surface and do little for their owner and, worse of all, imitation pearls are intrinsically worthless.

The best way to tell the difference is to rub one pearl against another: if it is imitation they will feel smooth, if they are authentic, either cultured pearls or natural pearls you will sense grittiness or traction, this is because you are picking up the microscopic level differences between the tiny calcium carbonate crystals called Aragonite which are held together by the glue like protein called  conchiolin.

We hold regular and very informative pearl talks at our studio. To find out when the next talk held at our studio at 42 Beauchamp Place, Knightsbridge, London SW3 1NX

 

Pearls 101 – What is a pearl?

Where does a pearl come from ? is a question we are often asked. There are many different types of pearl, some rarer than others, but before we start differentiating between them lets first understand how pearls are formed. Pearls are the product of the act of self-preservation by a mollusc, be it an oyster or a mussel. If the mollusc does not react in this way it will die.

In other words the creation of a pearl is caused by the protective reaction of an oyster or mussel to the accidental or deliberate introduction of a foreign body into its organism. This reaction starts by the mollusc covering the intruder with epithelial cells which will form a pearl sac around the intruder, which in turn deposit concentric layers of nacre that surround the offending object and slowly form the pearl, layer by layer.

 

So …what is nacre ?

Craft Film Final Assembly.00_00_16_02.Still002

Nacre is made up of calcium carbonate in the shape of tiny crystals called Aragonite. Calcium carbonate is also found in chalk, our teeth and various other everyday items. With a pearl the Aragonite crystals are held together with a glue-like protein called Conchiolin. In our teeth which are also made of calcium carbonate;  the protein that holds that Calcium Carbonate of our teeth together is stronger than Conchiolin hence when we are invited to “test” the genuineness of pearls against our teeth it is not only unhygienic but totally undesirable as our teeth will scratch the pearl.

 

What makes nacre?

Pearl Birth

Epithelial cells produce nacre and are therefore essential to pearl formation. They are found in a special tissue called the mantle which is found at the hinge and the edge of the molluscs flesh, as seen in the photograph shown. Nacre grows not only on pearls but also as mother of pearl on the interior of the shell. Nacre layers within the shell of the mollusc act as a protective shield against the outside world, making the mollusc less attractive as food to predators.  The only difference between pearls and mother of pearl is that in a pearl the layers are concentric and in mother of pearl they are flat or straight.

 

Where does a pearl gets its lustre from?

pearl layers

Nacre layers play a vital role in the pearl’s lustre. Nacre layers are very thin, translucent and reflect light, thus creating the pearl’s distinctive lustre. Generally the thicker the nacre with regular, thin and translucent layers, the finer the lustre will be on the pearl. In other words lustre is caused by the reflection of light on the surface of the pearl and the refraction of light as it passes through the layers of nacre. This effect appears to make the pearl glow from within.

The pearl clasp – is our signature

tahitian + Tourmaline NE + petals
Most of the designs in our pearl collections at Coleman Douglas have our signature pearl clasp, an innovative departure for pearl jewellery design, the pearl toggle clasp is far simpler to put on and take off than a traditional metal clasp and is ideal for the busy woman of today, it proved so popular that it has become our signature.

Our signature pearl clasp came into being over 25 years ago.  Mrs B, one of our clients suffered from arthritis, she found the normal workings of a metal clasp too fiddly. At the time good magnetic clasps were not easily available. Mrs B asked Chrissie our designer,  if Coleman Douglas Pearls could come up with an easier clasp. Something, she said, like a toggle but thicker…. The result is our signature clasp a naturally formed long cultured freshwater pearl, drilled halfway so that it acts as a hinge within a lasso of tiny seed pearls. It is easy to put on even blindfolded and it is very secure, so secure that 95% of the designs are Coleman Douglas Pearls are finished with the pearl toggle. If you have not tried it do pop into the studio at 42 Beauchamp Place to check it out and the moral of the story is if you listen to your customers you get GREAT INSPIRATION.

Here are a few of our favourite pieces with our pearl clasp, can you guess what they are before linking into the image?

br1720_main_image_large ne111whmain_image_large_large

ne1229_main_image_large_large ne1491_mian_image_large_large

Jackie film revives a fascination with pearls

jacqie
She may only have been America’s First Lady for a brief couple of years but Jacqueline Onassis Kennedy, with her elegant style, left a much-mirrored legacy to the fashion world. Portman portrays her with aplomb in Pablo Larraín’s fêted biopic Jackie. The film’s French costume designer Madeline Fontaine was recently awarded the 2017 Costume Design BAFTA for her epic recreations of Jackie’s outfits.

Jackie excelled in simple, classic dressing: camel, white, black and navy were her staple colours. She loved a strapless silk dress in a shade of sherbet to make her jewellery sing. She was queen of oversized shades and luscious headscarves. And no doubt the best-known 1960s Jackie O image is of the tailored suit, pillbox hat and white gloves – perfectly accessorized, of course, by several strings of pearls.

Jackie, who once said: ‘Jewelry is epoch making and to me it has a significance of its own’, was sure of the impact of jewellery on a look. Her pearls – usually the three-strand necklace, sometimes a pair of oversized statement pearl and diamond earrings and perhaps also a brooch – were her daily, go-to accessories. Surprisingly, these were often not of the real variety. But she gave them iconic status anyway, and in 2010 two of her simulated pearl necklaces along with a pair of faux pearl and diamond earrings sold for more than £50,000 at auction – an inflation of its value by more than 10,000 per cent.

In the well-known words of Mrs Kennedy: ‘Pearls are always appropriate.’

Channel your inner Jackie O with our pearls:

ne425_white_main_image_large

Classic 3 Strand Biwa Pearl Necklace in White, £273

ea1877_white_main_image_large

Large Freshwater Pearl Stud Earrings, £137

1213whmain_image_large_84c1c218-ceb2-42b5-a481-ff01d182ca17

Triple Strand Biwa Pearl Bracelet in white, £166