Testing Authenticity of Pearls

I have a strange question, so I know I came to the right place.

Eating lunch today, I found what appears to be 3 small pearls in a single oyster. (Ordered em on the half-shell for lunch)

They’re very small (roughly bb-sized) and shiny white.

My question is this, is there any test to determine if they are “real” pearls? Or I just happened to accidentally bite into some small shiny white pebbles?

Much thanks in advance!


p.s. just in case they were real pearls and some divine sign from above, I bought a lottery ticket and picked numbers that were multiples of 3 - just in case. :slight_smile:

Anecdotally, I’ve heard if you put them in your mouth and swish them around a bit, you’ll start feeling the sand grits if they’re real. No idea if this is true.


Oh, and approximately how much would 3 BB sized pearls be worth?

Well, they came FROM an oyster… isn’t there another test to determine pearl vs. rock?

Float them in something? Hold them under a blacklight? Ward off vampires?


Real pearls are somewhat rough and irregular in shape. Cultured pearls, or other imitations, are smooth and spherical.

Drop them in a glass of alcohol. If they dissolve, they were real.

vinegar, IIRC

Cultured pearls ARE real pearls. They are pearls that have been formed around a manually inserted nucleous rather than a naturally occuring one. Natural pearls are extraordinarily rare and you’re unlikey to find one in a jewellery/pearl shop.

My wife manages a pearl store and states that the tooth test does not work, however I am uncertain if she is correct in this belief. She gets a little annoyed by customers who go around puting the loose pearls in their mouth (understandably.)

If the pearls are real they will most likely be irregular in shape, even very expensive pearls are not perfectly round.

Probably not much. Value of pearls depends on the lustre, size, shape and colour of the pearl. The lustre refers to the quality of the nacre, whether it is dull or moderately reflective etc. BB sized pearls are small as far as pearls go. The more spherical they are, the more they are worth as well. A lot of the value in a piece of pearl jewellery (e.g., a necklace/strand) is in the matching of the pearls with each other. It can take years and years to get pearls the right colour and size for an expensive strand.

According to legend, real pearls dissolve in wine, because of it’s acidity. At least, according to Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” they do. From what I just found though, it isn’t true apparently. Here is an interesting page that describes what various mollusk pearls look like, with some photographs, maybe it will help you?

Yes they are. I was using “real” in sense of naturally occuring for which people will pay a lot of money. Cultured pearls are spherical because the irritant seed is spherical and is covered with a relatively thin shell of nacre. Natural pearls are built up of many layers of nacre on a grain of sand or other irritant and are thus irregular in shape.

As I wrote in the rest of the post of which you quoted a part.

Cultured pearls are not necessarily spherical. They can come in all kinds of various shapes and sizes. The pearls that people pay a lot of money for are cultured.

From here with my bolding:

Like people don’t pay a lot of money for cultured pearls? For what it’s worth, just about all pearls sold today - even the really, really pricey ones - are cultured. And they’re beautiful!


Slight Hijack:

What would a necklace of natural pearls be worth compared to a similiar one made of cultured pearls? My wife has a few natural pearl necklaces that she had brought from China and the pearls aren’t perfectly round, but the necklaces are still beautiful.

That depends on the quality and type of pearls. Freshwater pearls are often natural (they come in all shapes too, they’re not all the standard “rice-crispy” type) yet are generally much less expensive then saltwater, but some freshwater pearls can be more than saltwater depending on the type (like Biwas or large good color fancy shapes). Freshwater pearls have only started to be cultured fairly recently, and the price diff bewteen cultured and natural freshwater is not as large as with saltwater, except, again, when it’s not . :slight_smile: You’d really need to know what the pearls are and their grade to make a comparison.

Actually, I’m wrong that freshwater pearls have only been cultured fairly recently, I was thinking of some new techniques that came out in the 90s. It’s new that some freshwater are cultured with small pearls instead of mantle tissue. It’s the “bead” culturing that most people think of as “cultured”. But I do think natural freshwater pearls are more likely to be found than natural saltwater pearls, just because they’re generally not as obscenely expensive.

I toured a cultured pearl bed in China on vacation, they are most definitely not smooth and spherical. The difference is that, given the massive volume of pearl generated, it is statistically more likely to find ideal round pearls, and these are the most desired at market. So the public then gets the impression that round=cultured, when they are just as variable as natural pearls are.

They literally let us take pearls for free by the handful that weren’t up to marketable quality. IMO they were far more interesting and beautiful than the generic spherical pearl…coming in wonderful varieties of lumpy shapes and sizes, smooth or gritty, colors from turqoise to pink to yellow. They let us take several oysters, and open them and keep whatever we found inside. Mine was a dud oyster, but a friend got an oyster with over a dozen pearls of various colors inside, one of them a gorgeous marble-sized beauty.

Most of these “reject” pearls then get sold in bulk to cosmetics firms or paint companies, which grind them up and put them in cosmetics, creams, and such.

Are real pearls ever shaped (like diamonds get cut) to be round?