One of Shanghai's iconic symbols is the Pearl Tower. So of course, the next question is - Where can we find the best pearls in this fabulous city?
China Highlights decided to delve deeper into this, given the multitude of queries from our readers and customers. This feature aims to provide a comprehensive take on the best shops and stores, the types of pearls one can find (the variety is overwhelming), approximate price brackets and of course, telling the real from the fake. We hope you find this useful.
See more about Shanghai Shopping - Top Places to Shop for Souvenirs.
What does the pearl signify?
Pearls have held a strong symbolic status in Chinese culture since ancient times. The pearl has been associated with dragons for the longest time, with the dragon seen as chasing a pearl (perfection and enlightenment). The pearl also resembles the feminine moon, hence associated with beauty and purity. This also makes pearls a symbol of a happy marriage, and is usually a common wedding present. Pearls are also associated with good health.
Where to buy pearls
It is well known that there are hordes of options when it comes to jewelry shops in Shanghai. Especially Pearls. Everyone would warn you to be careful, and to look out for fake pearls. Sometimes even legit or expensive-looking shops are rumored to be selling unauthentic products. So one has to be quite cautious.
We have scoured the city and have listed out the three top spots in terms of variety, quality, reliability and pricing for you to check out. Of course, we have, in this very article, also provided you with a snapshot of basic tests one can carry out to check for authenticity of the pearls. Rest assured, you are looking at the best centers in Shanghai for purchasing pearls right below.
(I) Han City Shopping Center
- Address: 3rd Floor, 580 Nanjing Road, near Chengdu Road / 580 南京路，近成都路
- Hours: 10 AM to 10 PM
(II) Hongqiao International Pearl City
- Address: 3721 Hongmei Road, Changning District/ 3721 虹梅路，长宁区
- Hours: 10 AM to 10 PM daily
(III) First Asia Jewelry Plaza
- Address: 3/F, 288 Fuyou Road, Old Town / 三楼，福佑路288号，老城区
- Hours: 10 AM to 6 PM daily
Types of Pearls
At the very basic level, pearls available in the retail world fall in the following categories: Imitation Pearls; Natural Pearls; Cultivated Pearls.
- Imitation Pearls - These are outright fake pearls, but they can vary between really cheap and bad quality to quite decent and higher priced versions. These are usually made from plastic, glass or shell beads, and then they are coated in paint and polish to look like real pearls. These would be near perfect in shape and color so watch out.
- Natural Pearls - These are super rare and extremely expensive, and in all probability not available in a local wholesale market in China. So when the seller tells you it's natural, they probably mean that it's cultivated.
- Cultivated or Cultured Pearls - The name gives it away. These are real pearls that are harvested by man, in pearl farms. They are produced by pearl oysters for sure, but after the nucleus particle has been artificially inserted inside to initiate the process. These are mostly farmed in fresh waters.
This is the tricky part. It is important that you know the basic ways of telling the difference between fake and real pearls (more on this below). Other than that, if you are open to purchasing fake pearls also, then you can get a pair of earrings for as little as RMB 20! If you are looking at perfect copies of expensive brands (e.g. Tiffany's) then you are likely to shell out anywhere between RMB 120–400 for a pair of earrings or a simple pearl necklace. A set would cost you a bit more.
Now when you start looking at the range of genuine pearls, the sky's the limit. Of course there is huge variety and the costs vary. The more and more perfect the pearls look, the better will be their quality, and the higher the price range, so think anywhere from between RMB 200–300 till between RMB 10,000–20,000 (usually for very large pearl sets).
Overall, keep in mind that a host of factors determine the value of pearls. These factors include features like size, shape, luster, color and blemishes on the skin.
Fake or real - how to tell the difference
There are some basic tests you can do on the spot. Don't be afraid to show your testing skills at the shop!
- Rub the pearl against your teeth. It should feel sandy or gritty. If the pearl is a fake, it would feel smooth and slippery, almost like plastic.
- Scrape the surface with a sharp knife. It should result in some powdery residue. Also observe the color, which should be uniform inside and outside. You can also do this by simply rubbing two pearls against each other.
- Scrape the pearl on glass. If it leaves behind a mark, it's real. Fake pearls don't scratch glass.
- If you have a lighter on you, try to pass the pearl through a flame. Real pearls won't change color or appear black, which would be the case if it were a fake.
- Pearls, if genuine, would have certain imperfections on the surface. Look carefully and closely at the pearls, and if it's too flawless and without any marks, then it would be a fake.
Word of caution
Shopping in such spots can be slightly stressful, so be prepared to bargain hard. Vendors usually tend to be nice and friendly, but sometimes may seem to get pushy to make the sale. Don't let that dampen your spirits. Keep bargaining and you are likely to land a good deal for sure, after a bit of back and forth, and maybe even the 'walk away' tactic.
Create your own trip!
Pearls are beautiful and very symbolic in Chinese and many other cultures. We hope you find success in looking for high quality pearls in Shanghai. If you are interested in a more customized shopping experience, do not hesitate to reach us. We can help you create your very personal and special vacation to match your needs. We also recommend the following articles that would be helpful for you while you plan your Shanghai visit.