Natural pearls and cultured pearls are produced in rivers, lakes and bays by living mollusks and can be very similar in appearance. Imitation pearls - also called 'faux', 'simulated', and most recently, 'semi-cultured' - are not created by any living creature. They should no be referred to in any way as genuine or cultured. Imitation pearls have never seen the inside of a mollusk. They are entirely artificial, made from round glass, plastic, or shell beads dipped in a bath of ground fish scales and lacquer (called pearlessence), or one of the new plastic substances. The difference can usually be seen right away when compared side by side. One of the most obvious differences is in the LUSTER. Give it the LUSTER TEST: the cultured pearl will have a depth of luster that the fake cannot duplicate. The fake usually has a surface 'shine' but no inner 'glow'. 

Use the 'Tooth Test' to Spot the Fake

There are some fine imitations today that can be very convincing. Some have actually been mistaken for fine cultured pearls. An easy, reliable test in most cases is the 'tooth test'. Run the pearl gently along the edge of your teeth (the upper teeth are more sensitive). The genuine pearl will have a mildly abrasive or gritty feel (think of the gritty feeling of sand at the seaside - real pearls come from the sea), while the imitation will be slippery smotth (like the con artist, slippery smooth signifies a fake!). Try this test on pearls you know are genuine, and then on known imitations to get a feel for the difference. You'll never forget it!

The tooth test may be unreliable for amateurs when applied to the imitation 'Majorica' pearl, however. Although to the trained eye they have a very different look from cultured pearls, this is an imitation pearl which might be mistaken for genuine. Close examination of the surface under magnification will reveal a fine 'pinpoint' surface that is very different from the smooth surface of a cultured or natural pearl. An experience jeweller or gemologist can quickly and easily identify the Majorica for you.