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IMITATION PEARLS

by Binasaji

It is strange but when a real pearl is seen under a lens it has a smooth surface unlike in the tooth test where it feels gritty. This is due to the nacre of the pearl, which feels gritty but looks smooth. Imitation pearls will have a smooth appearance but under a lens they have a broken surface much like the surface of the moon.

Have you come across a perfectly matched strand of pearls at an unbelievable price – have a closer look and take a minute to check to see if they are real pearls or imitation pearls. These days it is difficult to spot an imitation pearl and a real pearl from a distance. The technologies in creating imitation pearls have advanced such that only a closer examination can reveal the origin of a pearl – whether made by a person or machine, created in minutes or formed inside a mollusk under the ocean for several years. China was the pioneer in creating Imitation pearls and now imitation pearls are manufactured across the globe.

Imitation pearls have a range of uses in several industries – Toys, Buttons, Fashion and Clothing, Artificial jewellery and many others. These pearls are used to make junk jewellery as well. Imitation pearls are fairly popular since they can be dyed into any color and are can be created in a variety of shapes from perfect spheres to ovals in any size. Called by several names like Faux pearls, Venetian pearls, Turkish Rose Pearls, semi-cultured pearls, Majorca pearls, Bohemian pearls, Organic pearls – the list of names for imitation pearls is long.

Imitation pearls are not gemstones and are manufactured manually or by machines. The process is rather simple. First, the desired shapes of beads in ceramic, glass or plastic are manufactured- sometimes even organic objects like shells are used. These are then coated and colored to recreate the look of real pearls. Several processes exist in the coating and coloring of imitation pearls. The coating used on imitation pearls (called pearl essence or essence d’orient) was discovered by a Frenchman named Jacquin. He found that fish scales emitted a pearly substance in water – he extracted this substance and mixed it with other chemicals to create the essence d’orient. This product is normally used to coat the beads to give them a pearly appearance. Hollow glass beads are coated inside with pearlessence and then filled with wax. Plastic beads are coated on the outside with this substance. These coated glass and plastic beads are then dipped in various solutions to give them a high luster and gloss.

The Majorca imitation pearls are renowned for their high quality and offer guarantees against chipping, discoloration etc. The technology behind manufacturing of these pearls is a closely guarded secret. Hand and machine made special nuclei are coated several times with high quality essence d’orient or other chemicals, polished, given a protective coating again and finally treated under ultraviolet radiation to give them a luster and radiance comparable to cultured pearls. Although Majorca pearls are imitation, with good care, they can last for a long time.

Another method of making imitation pearls is to coat beads with real pearl powder (which can be expensive). Some companies even compress rose petals to make rose smelling pearls. Another form of imitation pearls is coating shell, ceramic beads with lacquer, shiny mica and other metallic substances to give it the glow of pearls.

Just like cultured and natural pearls, imitation pearls too can be of differing qualities. The Majorca pearls are some of the most expensive imitation pearls. The price of the imitation pearls depends mainly on the coating used – pearl powder and good quality essence d’orient veneer will be more expensive than mica covered beads. A strand of Imitation pearls can cost anywhere from twenty to a hundred dollars. A very good quality strand of Majorcan pearls could even cost a little more.

If you are interested in buying real pearls, knowing how to differentiate between real and imitation pearls will assist you in making the right choice.

The simplest and easiest way is to rub the strand of pearls lightly along your teeth, if it feels smooth – it is imitation. Real pearls do not have a uniform surface and the nacre feels gritty on your teeth. But this test needs to be done very carefully since our tooth enamel is harder than pearls and can result in scratches on the pearl. Also some high quality imitation Majorcan pearls will pass the tooth test as they are manufactured with great care and replicate real pearls in every aspect.

Another easy way to gauge the authenticity of the pearls is to weigh them in your palms. Real pearls are solid inside and will weigh more than plastic imitations. But wax filled glass pearls, which are not hollow, will not pass this test, since their weight is almost the same as real pearls.

In a strand of real pearls, at least one pearl will be flawed. Also to find a flawlessly matched set of pearls is very difficult and these will be expensive. Pearl strands with perfectly matched colors, luster, shape and size are suspect, especially if the price is not high.

Examining pearls under a magnifying lens is another option to check whether a pearl is real or imitation. It is strange but when a real pearl is seen under a lens it has a smooth surface unlike in the tooth test where it feels gritty. This is due to the nacre of the pearl, which feels gritty but looks smooth. Imitation pearls will have a smooth appearance but under a lens they have a broken surface much like the surface of the moon.

Have a good look at the area around the holes of the pearls, real pearls being uniform throughout will not have any visible lines around the drilled holes or anywhere else in the pearl. The coating of imitation pearls can flake off during the process of drilling holes and the difference between the coating and the bead will be visible if the area surrounding the holes is carefully examined. The coating may be thinner around the drilled are and will have a cheap shiny finish, which is a result of the thinning of the coating on the inner plastic or glass bead.

All the above tests are reliable but the safest method is to buy from a reliable source and ensure that the price quoted is equivalent to the quality of the pearls. A flawless set of pearls is expensive and depends on the type of pearl – freshwater, cultured – the region it is sourced from – Tahiti, China, Japan, Australia and its color, luster, size and shape.

Imitation is the best form of flattery and in pearls as with everything else, the booming imitation market is proof that pearls are extremely popular.

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