The oldest natural pearls examined using the carbon-14 age-dating method by SSEF were recovered in the Cirebon shipwreck off Java in Indonesia. They date back to the 11th century.
Basel, Switzerland--The Swiss Gemmological Institute SSEF said it has become the first gem laboratory in the world to introduce age dating of pearls using carbon-14 (14C) as a service to its clients.

The research and services are offered in partnership with the Ion Beam Physics Laboratory at leading university ETH Zurich.

According to the ETH Zurich website, the 14C method measures the ratio of radioactive carbon (14C) to normal carbon (12C) in the nacre to determine the true age of pearls.

It can be used to provide valuable information about both the age of loose pearls and pearls set in jewelry.

Age determination not only can help support evidence of historic provenance in the case of antique jewelry and iconic natural pearls, but also can also be used to identify fraud in cases where younger pearls are mounted in historic jewelry or have been treated to appear older than they actually are.

The 14C age also is helpful to decide whether a pearl is natural or cultured since cultivation methods for certain mollusk species only started in the 20th century.

Age-dating, especially when it comes to historic pearls, won’t give a single date of formation, the SSEF said, but rather a range of years in which the pearl formed. It still can confirm, however, that the pearl is not, in fact, a modern formation.

SSEF Director Michael S. Krzemnicki told National Jeweler that age dating of pearls has been a topic of research at the lab for years driven by scientific curiosity and interest in the trade in this new approach for pearl testing.

“Having analyzed a selected number of pearls of clients in the last few months, we have now decided to offer radiocarbon age-dating as a specialized service to our clients,” he said.

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