Shell pearl was invented in the twentieth century in America as an analogue for the South Sea pearls. It quickly moved to leading positions on the world market, successfully competing with the Majorica pearl (when many layers of natural mother-of-pearl are applied to an alabaster ball).
The Spanish technology of Majorica is so perfect that the manmade pearl is impossible to tell apart from natural one with the naked eye. The technique was developed and perfected on the Spanish island of Majorca over the course of 120 years. The founder and developer of this technology, a German immigrant Edward Hugo Hosh, dreamed of achieving a complete external similarity of the artificial pearls to the natural ones and he succeeded!
Currently, the synthetic Majorica is sold in huge quantities all over the world and is distinguished by an excellent pearlescent shine, an ideal round shape, and affordable price. It is interesting that under electric lighting artificial pearls have an unusually beautiful light diffraction effect.
Shell pearl has an even more fascinating manufacturing technology, based on the use of giant clams (tridacna gigas). Tridacna can reach up to two meters in length. Perhaps this is why they became the basis for the American pearl imitation method.
Using special stone cutters, the shells are fragmented into small pieces which are then polished until they are perfectly flat. As a result small balls of pressed mother-of-pearl are obtained. Several layers of pearl essence are then applied to the bead and covered with a thick solution of lacquer or enamel, which gives the pearl the desired opalescent effect and shine. This technology brings the shell pearls close to natural pearls, as no artificial products are used for their making; all ingredients are based on the natural mother of pearl.
Shell pearls look very beautiful. They have a perfectly smooth drop and round or spherical shape. Their usual size is from 10 to 16mm. However, now, in order to imitate natural pearls even better, they are produced in irregular shapes.
Shell pearl is as heavy as natural one, which must be taken into account when manufacturing jewellery, because other pearl imitations are much lighter. Multilayer lacquer coating guarantees long life to this pearl imitation’s colour and shine. It is also resistant to cosmetic products, perfume and other chemical exposures, and not as capricious in wearing as natural pearls. The colour range is also extremely diverse - from pastel and classic tones to today's popular bright neon shades.
The technology of manufacturing shell pearls is constantly being improved. Not so long ago, for the joy of jewellers and handicraft masters, a novelty was released - pearl beads measuring 10mm with a large hole of 3mm.
Due to costly manufacturing the price of shell pearls is not much lower than the famous Majorica, but it is still quite affordable.
Externally shell pearl is indistinguishable from natural pearl, except for its perfect form. This is why it’s no accident that it is used in particular for Chanel jewellery, and not Majorica.
Although shell pearls are very beautiful and durable, every buyer should still know what exactly s/he is buying - natural pearls or manmade ones. So how to distinguish real pearls from lab pearls, and man-made ones from simple plastic?
Natural or Shell Pearl? Test it.
- Run a pearl gently on your teeth. You should feel the grating of sand with a real pearl, whereas artificial pearls will slide smoothly on the teeth.
- Rub two pearls against each other. A strip of white pearl powder will form in the place of rubbing. Draw a finger along it and wipe off the powder – there should be no scratch left, and the pearl should remain smooth. On a plastic one there will be no powder formed and a scratch will remain.
- Trace the edge of a fingernail along the surface of the pearl. You will feel roughness and unevenness on a natural pearl, while an artificial one has a surface that is smooth on which the nail will just glide (like with the teeth in the first method).
- Pearls are cold and heavy, unlike plastic fakes. Shell pearls and Majorica are quite heavy but warm, plastic fakes are light and warm.
- Real and shell pearls bounce like a ball on a hard surface, such as glass. Plastic beads do not bounce.
About Pearl Colour
If you choose a coloured pearl and want to know whether it was artificially coloured, rub two pearls together. The powder on the pearl must be white, not red, blue, or green, as it will be if the pearl is coloured or "refined" with coloured lacquer on top.
The authenticity of the colour of black pearls can be checked with a nail polish remover. This is not good for the pearls, but you don’t want to buy a fake either, especially if you’re buying cheap black pearls and are afraid that you might be slipped fake or painted ones. Rub the pearl with a cotton pad soaked in nail polish remover. If the colour does not rub off, it is the real colour of the pearl.