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Lab Introduces Age Dating of Pearls

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The lab uses carbon-14 dating.

BASEL, SWITZERLAND – The Swiss Gemmological Institute SSEF has begun offering carbon-14 age dating of pearls.

The organization said on a press release that it is “the first gem laboratory worldwide” to offer the service to clients.

“We are honoured to be able to offer this new service to the international pearl trade,” said Michael S. Krzemnicki, director of SSEF. “It is an opportunity to document the provenance of unique and iconic natural pearls as well as further protecting the natural pearl trade.”

According to the release, the dating technique can be used to identify fraud in cases where, for example, younger pearls are mounted in historic jewelry items, or have been treated to appear older than they are.

“14C age dating can be used to obtain evidence to support a decision whether a pearl is of natural or cultured formation,” the institute stated. “This is because methods to commercially cultivate pearls from certain mollusc species began only during the 20th century.”

The oldest natural pearls examined using this method by SSEF were recovered from the well-known Cirebon shipwreck off Java in Indonesia. They were dated to the 11th century.

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The carbon-14 research and services are offered in partnership with the Ion Beam Physics Laboratory at ETH Zurich.

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