Fake pearls, "Real" Pearls... a novice's approach to eBay


Well-known member
Apr 13, 2013
I really have been in the market for some pearls I could wear, and I mean, wear without having to worry about them. I mentioned in a previous thread that I find a full strand to be a little too formal for daily wear, I don't go out much and I'm a stay at home mom (of a seven year old boy, so wearing expensive pearls could lead to bad places very fast). When I started looking on eBay I was actually looking for, well, costume jewelry that wasn't full of gaudy rhinestones? The thing that interests me about pearl jewelry is that even "fake" pearls can be really beautiful. I've always thought of fake jewelry as kind of trashy, my mom is from "that era," so I'm only now learning to appreciate "good fakes" and find them acceptable to wear. But even the decent fakes are hard to understand on eBay! Here are a few things I've learned in the process -- I've learned a lot from these forums already, so I thought I'd share my experience here too.

From the start, I knew that it would be nearly impossible to tell a real pearl from a fake one on eBay. They don't have to send you the exact item that's listed, and it could have come from anywhere. I also knew I wouldn't be looking for expensive jewelry or anything that would have an appraisal with it. I'm not opposed to pre-owned, either, not that a pre-owned pearl is necessarily harder to trace than a "new" one these days, what with the many sources of fakes. And even the TERM "fake" is so, so differently used from person to person... some people call cultured pearls fake, while others will only call it so if it's made of glass or plastic. Some define "natural" as having come out of a shell without any human help, others will label almost anything as natural as long as it isn't color treated (or doesn't look color treated). It depends on the seller, on the consumer, and to an extent, how knowledgeable both are about what they're looking at. And let's face it, the real value of our items is what we give them -- and how much we want to wear them.

My first rule when I began browsing was that I wouldn't bid on anything that I wasn't willing to accept as a fake. I checked the return policies, made sure there was feedback on each seller from many different sources, and checked the creation dates of the accounts. I also looked at other items in the store. Checking to see how many other people are bidding on their various items is also helpful, you can tell which eBay accounts are new, so if there are a lot of higher-rated eBay buyers bidding happily on jewelry from a seller with 100% positive feedback, good detailed descriptions, and a satisfaction guaranteed or your money back policy, I'd be pretty comfortable bidding--at least I'd know that the seller really thought that what they had was worth what they were asking, and so did other people who were bidding. (Note: if you're really diligent, you can actually check the other bidders' profiles to see what departments they've been bidding in. I'd be more likely to "trust" a bidder who frequents fine jewelry sites than miscellaneous "found item" stores).

Many listings themselves are a little hard to understand. Some listings don't acknowledge that their pearls are crystal unless you read the description, and some of them don't say what they're made of, but might be listed under either fine jewelry or costume jewelry. I've noticed a lot of people list items in the jewelry section with very, very short auction times, I'd be wary of that--they may be pushing people to bid before asking questions, fearing the auction will end before they get an answer. Don't be afraid to ask! Furthermore, it's sometimes wise to ask a question that isn't necessarily on point -- you could inquire about the piece in relation to one you already own, for example, and make it clear you have some knowledge about pearls. I've noticed that the questionable auctions I've asked such questions about don't tend to get responses, ever. This includes inquiries about the seller's definition of the terms "vintage" and "antique," as well as where the seller obtained the piece. A seller who outright ignores questions from prospective customers isn't someone who needs my business--at least send me an "oops, so sorry I missed your message before the auction ended!" That's especially true if they have another similar item, and it's always possible that nobody bid on the item -- in which case, "are you still interested?" might be a good response, especially if it's another chance to sell the piece at the full value that nobody else was willing to pay. Just a thought. :)

Beware of "real" brand name pearls. Some auctions, intentionally or not, will list an item as "real," when what they really mean is that it's a genuine vintage brand-name item... google the brand, you find out that they only made glass pearls. However, sometimes you find out that certain items of that brand can have a much higher resale value than what you buy it for on eBay... and if it's something you actually want to wear, you're definitely not wasting what you put into the auction. If you love it, you'll love it whether the pearls are glass or nacre (or a combination of other materials, for that matter). And most of the people around you will never know the difference. The history of pearls is very closely linked to the history of fake pearls, and I honestly find both stories to be equally interesting. Learning about fake pearls can be just as useful as learning about the real ones.

I agree with many of the previous posts that say "if it looks too good to be true, it probably is." On the other hand, it's also possible to bid on a 99c auction from someone clearing an estate sale and come out with real pearls. You're less likely to be disappointed if you only expect what you can glean from the photos, description, and other information available on the ebay listing/whatever must be looked up on Google, and if you make sure the seller is honest about accepting returns (you can usually find one or two if you read through their feedback carefully--and if they don't accept returns, you can find out about that, too). Another note here, I've noticed that there are a lot of "positive" feedback listed that actually have negative comments. Snooping on eBay is your friend. And I mean that in the least creepy way possible.

It's sad that eBay has become such a harbor for fraud and deceit, but if you live by "hope for the best, expect the worst," and are really ready to accept either outcome, it's a great place to find unique pieces.

Sorry if any of these hints are repeats from other posts. :) Feel free to move this to another thread if there's a better place for it, and I'm looking forward to reading more about others' experiences & great finds!
Great advice! Thanks for taking the time to really explore the eBay thing in depth. Yeah, you have to be careful with a description of REAL! :cool:
nice advice, since ebay is the best source to find any cheap, good product, must be many bad person that will get benefit from it.
Looks like you've worked out a system that generally helps you to find eBay things you won't be disappointed with! And that is good.

EBay is a hard place for sellers these days. On eBay discussion boards I've read threads where sellers say they get nervous when buyers ask certain kinds of questions-- for some who have been burned, the slightest indication that the buyer might be hard to please leads them to preemptively place the buyer on a blocked bidder list, often on the advice of other sellers who tell them to "ignore and block". Buyers also post that they were blocked after asking a question and wonder why that happened. The answer is generally that it may be the tone or type of question they asked that made the seller nervous. (And maybe they are better off not dealing with that seller, but even good sellers get nervous more easily these days thanks to eBay policies that are hostile to sellers.)

I think asking what the seller means by vintage might lead to that result, and even asking where the seller got the item (maybe they found it at a garage sale but don't want to reveal that fact.) Provenance-- and paperwork-- are key for high priced items, but for low priced items it might be best not to ask about provenance if the seller has not volunteered it in the listing (just my opinion.) Remember, too, that a seller can easily say the pearls belonged to grandma when they really were found at Goodwill.
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I'm sure it must be a terrifying place to sell--and you're absolutely right that a seller can lie, or simply be worried a customer will give them a hard time. I certainly don't wish to spook anybody needlessly, but if a seller is honest, they don't have anything to fear from me--and my 100% positive buyer feedback shows that. People can be picky, that's true, and I've seen a lot of such things in the comments section. The truth is I think a lot of negative"ish" feedback comes from buyer's remorse or simply not reading descriptions--in one case, for example, someone complained about the exact pair of earrings I bought and said they were too small... when he size was clearly listed in the description and there was a large note that said the photograph was enlarged to show the detail (as is often necessary with small items, it's very hard to sell something you can't see). However, there have been many cases where it's hard to tell whether the person just stuck the name "vintage" on a new item because it is in a vintage style... whether it's an honest mistake in the seller's understanding of the term or not, if they're selling it, they should know better. I have two dealings that stand out in my mind as the difference between a seller I will buy from again, and one that's on my no-list.

In one case, the seller claimed to have "many years of experience" dealing in antiques and have a store (unnamed) that sells them, they claimed that all their pieces were genuine "vintage antique jewelry." I sent an inquiry about a ring that I thought was really nice, because it was an international sale and the bidding was getting up into that range of "not something I'd buy if it's not actually old." I simply asked the seller what they consider to be vintage or antique, I didn't pry for details or origin, since I honestly don't mind if someone doesn't have specifics (not a high dollar item). My mom is into antiques so I know that most dealers consider antiques to be 100+ years old, while some people only require an age of 50 years to call it an antique, and most "vintage" dealers sell items that are over twenty years (I'm not especially picky about exact age, but again, if what you're paying for is the fact that it's antique, it is relevant). Also, being an overseas transaction, other places might have different ideas of antique/vintage, and with my sensitive skin, I know that the age of a piece can affect what was used to make it. Once I sent the message, I went to see if there were other items that I might like, because I was sure the auction would end before I heard back. I found that every single other item in the seller's shop was very, very similar to the piece I had been looking at... in various ring sizes, with various stones, all claiming to be sterling silver. They could easily have been made with Victorian molds (just like some other pieces I've bought recently), but none of the pieces in the photos showed any wear, they had very brief, nonspecific descriptions which only said "vintage, antique ring," listed the type of stone and that it was set in sterling, and each only had a single photo of the front of the ring. This made me suspicious, because most sellers of antique and/or vintage jewelry have a selection of different types of items that appear to be of different ages and stages of wear... unless someone is moving things along that they got in a single transaction or they collect a certain type of item, which will often be stated in the listing (proudly!) This was one of those cases where I wasn't initially suspicious, but in the end, I was very glad I hadn't done business with the seller. It's scary to be a buyer, too, and when I make a mistake I'd rather not pay international return shipping (or the high restocking fee this person asked for).

The second is the case of the mystery pearl necklace I posted on the other forum. In this case, the seller trades in "found" items, has a very good reputation and long eBay history, and a lot of feedback from both satisfied customers and a few who had to work out a minor issue, but said the seller worked with them. When I received the pearls, they failed the tooth test. So, a seller of found items who does sell other pearl jewelry, selling an item that fails the tooth test? Then again, they passed so many other tests, and they're definitely vintage... I thought perhaps the seller might know something about them that I didn't, so I sent a question (it wound up opening a case, which I hadn't really intended to do, but I guess that's how eBay works--I closed the case fairly quickly because that wasn't how I wanted things to be solved). The seller wrote me back and said they absolutely stand by their items and offered a partial refund. The truth is, I love the necklace and I'm definitely keeping it, I didn't pay a lot for it, and as usual I wasn't expecting them to be worth more than what I paid for them, but I certainly appreciate the message back, and I said I'd only accept a partial refund if I find out they're worth less than what I paid by a significant amount (I know eBay charges fees, and I don't want the seller to lose money over an honest mistake).

eBay is full of both buyers and sellers who can be... questionable. I know that I'm not one of them, I've never returned an item and actually haven't had to leave negative feedback on anyone... probably because I've done my homework before I buy. But online retail is a business just like regular retail. If I get treated like I'm a liability simply for asking what seems like a pretty fair question, that's going to turn me off that seller, just as it would if the same thing happened upon walking into a jewelery/antique store (can you imagine an honest antiques dealer getting huffy and ruffled simply because a customer inquired about the approximate age of an item? They're supposed to be the experts, and the story is part of the fun!) If sending a friendly, simple inquiry turns the buyer off me too, I guess it's mutual. It's possible that a few sellers I've sent questions to have been honest and just scared, but the fact is most sellers are happy to respond, and they've been very friendly and helpful. If someone is too scared of their own potential customers to say, "my current items are deco pieces that I found at an estate sale," those potential sales probably won't work out very often. I try to be forgiving and open minded, but I also try not to be suckered into things. My overall eBay experience has been excellent, and I even found a penpal in Japan because of a question I asked about an item! :)
... I sent a question (it wound up opening a case, which I hadn't really intended to do, but I guess that's how eBay works--I closed the case fairly quickly because that wasn't how I wanted things to be solved).....

I've just read on another forum that I frequent that eBay has just (in the past few days) instituted this change whereby sending a message to a seller you've bought from opens a dispute/case automatically. The exception is if you click "Other". I'm going to go read up on that more on eBay boards.
I've just read on another forum that I frequent that eBay has just (in the past few days) instituted this change whereby sending a message to a seller you've bought from opens a dispute/case automatically. The exception is if you click "Other". I'm going to go read up on that more on eBay boards.

That's totally possible, I was pretty confused by the options they presented, and I checked that the item wasn't as described, but that I still wanted to keep the item... I looked, but didn't see an option whereby I could contact the seller at all without opening a case. When it sort of forced me, I considered just returning them, because of a "well, I wouldn't want to pay that much for a fake, now that you mention it," reflex. But it didn't sit right, so I went back and closed the case. The seller actually wrote me back -after- the case closed, even though I didn't have the option to re-open it. It also took "I want to keep the item" and took that to mean that I was requesting a replacement... no wonder sellers have such a hard time.
Thanks for the link... wonder what possessed them to do that... it's the sort of thing that scares me off as a buyer because I couldn't ask a follow up question or even say thank you (sometimes people stick in little extras, and I always try to say thanks). :( Cases are relatively easy to close -- then again, you can't re-open the case after you close it, which might give some pause before doing so. At least it doesn't hurt the seller's reputation if a case is opened by accident, I'd feel awful if it was. Maybe they'll make some changes to the policy in the near future to make it easier for everyone.
Actually it doesn't open a case if you click "Other" -- that is the only way the seller actually gets your message, from what I read on the other forum.
Now that I look on my eBay account, there -is- a link to that information... sigh. So needlessly complicated! This will be very useful to know when my next eBay test runs its course... ordering $1-$5 pearls from China (with free shipping of course, and only from sellers that actually appear to have good reputations/high sales/see above criteria) to see what I get. Curiosity killed the cat but it doesn't have to kill my bank account. :) I'm a total sucker for Chinese freshwater pearls anyway, so we'll see what I get.
help new member

help new member

ok I am a new member signed up logged in and just finished the pearlsasone course and I am a CPAA as of yesterday was wanting to start a thread and do not know how cannot find the way to do it so any help would be welcome thanks
KellyOx, everyone's first few posts have to be moderated, but they are all there now.
Congratulations on finishing the CPAA course!
I have bought pearls on Ebay, but only Mikimoto, what I have realized is that many and more sellers in Japan do not specify the size of the pearl, they use high technology to make the pearl look big and beautiful. But sometimes I think they want to see you looking like an idiot, they sell jewelry and they don't have a meter for mm. A lady sold me an "M" ring, which according to this was 8mm and was 7.5, mm. The only thing that saved her from a bad comment is that driving the car and bringing my ring she looked like she had a pink "orient" or like a suddenly pink aura in the sun. I am seriously afraid to buy the other pearls because it is difficult to differentiate them just by photo, only when I come to buy it will be thinking that it has a wonderful shine that will last me a year and is cheap.