History of Pearl Simulants

Natural pearls, formed in a mollusk without any human intervention, are extremely rare. Throughout history, these gems have had enormous value and signified wealth and status. Some societies even imposed laws to prevent lower classes from owning or wearing pearls.

So, naturally, people made imitations for adornment. The first mention of pearl lookalikes comes from Wang Chong’s Lun Heng. Published in China in 83 CE, it reads, “Marquis of Sui made pearls from chemicals, which were as brilliant as genuine ones.” Although these faux pearls are famous in Chinese literature, the exact process to create them is lost to history.

Some ancient civilizations baked clay spheres coated with mica powder to imitate pearls. However, European glassmakers began to develop more sophisticated faux pearls. In the 16th century, Venetian artisans created an iridescent glass. By blowing hollow spheres and filling them with wax, this glass could resemble pearl.

In the 18th century, “Roman pearls” became the simulant of choice. These hollow glass beads received a coating of essence d’orient derived from fish scales. Then, artisans filled them with wax.

In these centuries, jewelers often mixed real and faux pearls together in the same piece. In…