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How artificial pearls are made

Have you ever wondered how artificial pearls are made, especially those that look so real? They may be true imitations, made of plastic or glass, or cultured.

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There are two distinctions when it comes to artificial pearls. The first is a completely faux pearl made of glass or plastic. The second is a man-made, or cultured pearl, that is naturally harvested with small assistance by humans in pearl farms. Both have a complicated production process that results in a beautiful piece of jewelry.

Faux pearls

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True imitation pearls are made of glass, ceramic, shell, or plastic, like any other type of bead. If you find a long strong of completely identical pearls (pictured above) they are more than likely man-made. The bead or fragment is coated with a varnish or some other material that simulates a pearl-like luster and false iridescence. Each material has a different production process that varies greatly from the other.

Plastic pearl beads are made by filling empty molds with white liquid plastic and then waiting for it to cool and dry. Hundreds of thousands of these beads can be made at a time.

Ceramic pearl beads are made by rolling clay into a narrow cylinder, cutting into bead-sized pieces, then poking a hole through the center of the bead. The edges are then rounded to form a pearl shape. With the shape and color complete, the beads are then fed en masse into a kiln to be baked hard. A finishing layer of glaze gives them a shine

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Glass pearl beads are made using an old art form called torch-working. A torch worker uses a mandrel, heat-resistant rod covered with wax roughly the size of a pencil and a blow torch. The blow torch is mounted on a table, and melts a thin rod of colored glass until it melts around the mandrel. The bead is kept molten and shaped with heat-resistant tools until it the shape is complete. Once the bead is dried, it is removed from the mandrel by pushing along the waxed edge.

Each type of imitation pearl has a different weight, texture, and price. Plastic pearl beads are typically the cheapest, and are often found on children’s jewelry.

Cultured Pearls

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Some may think of cultured pearls as being imitation, but the oyster still does most of the work. A pearl farmer will inject sand into the oyster to kick-start the process, then will check regularly to make sure the pearl is growing. Once the pearl is the appropriate size, it is harvested, drilled, and turned into beautiful pearl jewelry! The pearls are usually harvested after one year for Akoya, 2–4 years for Tahitian and South Sea, and 2–7 years for freshwater.  Some larger oysters can grow multiple pearls, as pictured above.

This process has been around since 1916, and today, more than 99% of all pearls sold worldwide are cultured pearls. As the technology has improved, pearl farmers have been able to create larger, more perfect pearls that are in high demand.

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While faux imitation pearls can be nice, cultured pearls are indistinguishable from natural pearls, exhibiting the same luminescence. Discover our selection of pearl earrings, rings, necklaces, and other jewelry to see for yourself.