First of all, let’s distinguish between the three. Natural pearls are just as the words indicate. These pearls form naturally when an irritant such as a grain of sand enters the mollusk, which secretes “nacre” (pronounced nay-ker) to protect itself from the foreign matter. The nacre forms what is eventually a pearl.
Cultured pearls are formed in much the same way, but the irritant, or “nucleus,” is implanted in the mollusk by human beings, which then harvest the pearls at varying levels of maturity. The size of the pearl is determined by both the size of the nucleus and the time allowed for the nacre to grow thicker around that nucleus.
A simulated pearl is any material that is meant to look like a cultured or natural pearl. Such simulants usually consist of a plastic or glass bead coated with a pearl-like skin. The Federal Trade Commission Guidelines for the Jewelry Industry address disclosure and terminology issues with regard to pearls.
There are ways in which to examine pearls gemologically in order to determine their identity as natural, cultured, or simulated. However, a reasonably reliable test can be performed by the untrained consumer. If you have pearls in your possession, carefully run one or more across the edge of one of your front teeth. If the surface feels slightly grainy, like very fine sandpaper, you have confirmed that the pearl is cultured or natural. Any simulant will feel absolutely smooth as you run it across the edge of your tooth. If you are still in doubt, consult with a qualified jeweler or gemologist.
Posted in: Authenticity and Disclosure