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A bad break for fake pearls
Date:10/19/2013

arls and to provide better documentation of historical speci-mens. This will give dealers and owners of pearl jewellery greater transparency and certainty regarding a pearl's source.

In a next phase, the researchers envision using the pearl DNA to determine a pearl's local origin, potentially allowing jewellers and owners to identify the region or even the specific lagoon in which a pearl was produced.

Age determination with radiocarbon dating

In a parallel research partnership between ETH Zurich and the SSEF, Irka Hajdas from the Laboratory for Ion Beam Physics at ETH Zurich and Michael Krzemnicki from the SSEF sought to determine the age of pearls using radio-carbon dating. This involved measuring the ratio of radioactive carbon (14C) to normal carbon (12C) in the nacre. This study, which was published in the scientific journal Radiocarbon, demonstrated how the true age of pearls can be de-termined using the 14C method. This method can help clarify whether a historical piece of jewellery is an antique or a forgery made of modern cultured pearls.

Identifying forgeries

Pearls are among the oldest jewels used by humans. Natural pearls, which form randomly in the mantle tissue of molluscs, are especially valuable. It is often necessary to break open thousands of shells to find a single natural pearl. Cultured pearls have been commercially available only since 1910, but have been produced in massive quantities since then. In 2012, China alone produced more than a billion pearls for the jewellery market, most of which were cultured pearls from freshwater molluscs.

Determining the type of pearl in a piece of jewellery and its age and origin are becoming increasingly important for the trade in both historical natural pearls and modern cultured pearls. These new technologies will make it easier to expose frauds and forgeries.


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Contact: Bruce McDonald
bruce.mcdonald@agrl.ethz.ch
41-446-323-847
ETH Zurich
Source:Eurekalert

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