Kota Kinabalu Pearls
Travel Guides & Tips

Thinking of buying pearls in Kota Kinabalu? Here’re some tips to make you an expert!

Did you know that for many visitors, shopping for pearls is a popular thing to do in Kota Kinabalu? Walk into any of the markets in Kota Kinabalu, and you’ll see many stalls selling pearls, all claiming to have the best quality. The prices can range from a mere RM10 to a few hundred Ringgit, which can be quite confusing to a buyer.

So, how do you know if you’re paying for a good quality pearl, a mediocre one or are being conned with a fake one?

We were wondering too, so we spoke to the sellers and asked the world’s best friend, Google, for good measure. Here are some of the tips we think would be useful for those of you who want to buy pearls in Kota Kinabalu.

1. Freshwater vs. Saltwater Pearls

South Sea Pearls
Saltwater Pearls

The main distinction is that freshwater ones come in all sizes and shapes, while saltwater ones are usually more round, making the latter more expensive and sought after. Not to say freshwater pearls don’t have their own appeal, especially among those who love to make a statement and look trendy.

Freshwater Pearls
Freshwater Pearls

2. The tooth test 

We know it sounds odd, but trust us – run the pearl gently along the tip of your teeth and if it feels grainy or sandy, chances are the pearls are real. Fake or imitation pearls are usually very smooth when rubbed against your teeth or against each other.

A less recommended method, and only done if you’re the owner of the pearl, is to scratch it lightly against a sharp surface. The scratched part should come away like smooth powder if it’s real. The surface of fake pearls tend to peel instead. 


3. Nature is not flawless

Even the most high quality pearls will not be perfect. Look for imperfections such as dimples, lines or in the shape of the pearls. If the pearl has any of the ‘defect’, it’s probably real.


4. No two pearls are the same

Most stores try to match the size of the pearls when they make a strand. However, no two pearls are the exact same, so compare each of them to see if they are identical. Perfectly round and same-sized pearls can be an indication that the strand is fake.


5. Pay attention to temperature 

The unique thing about pearls is that they tend to be cool to the touch but absorb the body temperature of the person wearing it. If the pearl is at room temperature at all times, you might want an expert to take a look at it for further evaluation.


6. Real pearls shine brighter

Imitation pearls

Does the pearl reflect the light around it? Can you see your reflection on it? These are good signs as quality pearls are shiny and should do just that. Although a good imitation can have similar quality, you can use the other methods we’ve mentioned to check for authenticity. 


7. Green or pinkish luster

Pink and Green Pearl Luster

Not all pearls shine the same. Some of them have a green tinge to them, while others have a pinkish shine to them. As mentioned before, no two pearls are exactly the same, so if the tinge on them looks the same, you should be skeptical.


8. The material used to bind the pearls together

This is not strictly pearl-related, but many peddlers at the Kota Kinabalu markets sell ready-made jewelry and price their merchandise based on the materials used. For example, a pendant made with suasa (a type of metal made of gold and copper) will cost a lot more than those made with stainless steel.

We hope our pearls of wisdom help, and if you’re planning a trip to Kota Kinabalu soon, book your trip on Traveloka for some of the best flight and hotel deals!

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