PEARL GRADING – An Insider’s Guide to Grading Gorgeous Pearls
Pearl grading standards are a MESS. Seriously – standards are all over the place, they vary from seller to seller, farmer to farmer and auction to auction. Walking an industry show and talking to pearl farmers entails learning as many as 30 new grading scales in day in order to navigate the pearls on offer.
What I take with me when I go is my special grading hank that features pearls with all my grading benchmarks so I can compare pearls to make sense of it all while I’m there.
Now, obviously you don’t have that option.
BUT, what I can do is create simple breakdown of each grade’s specific standards using the A-AAA Grading Scale so you know exactly what to look for when purchasing pearls.
Follow the links below to jump straight to the specific pearl grading guide you’re looking for, or read on a bit more for an overview of the popular Grading Scales in use today, and how they relate to your pearls.
- 7 Value Factors for Pearls
- What’s the Deal with Pearl Grading?
- A-AAA Akoya & Freshwater Pearl Grading
- A-D Tahitian & South Sea Pearl Grading
- What’s the Deal with AA+/AAA Grades?
- A Note on Gem Grade Pearls
- Types of Pearl Blemishes
- Akoya Pearl Grading Guide
- Tahitian Pearl Grading Guide
- Freshwater Pearl Grading Guide
- South Sea Pearl Grading Guide
Pearl Value Factors (there’s 7 of them!)
What’s the Deal with Pearl Grading?
My biggest concern regarding A-AAA vs A-AAAA or AAA+ or AAAAA grading scales is that instead of making pearl grading standards as easy as possible to understand, it actually creates a ton of confusion. So be careful! If you see a strange grade like AAAA+, then buyer beware.
Here’s how this works: Instead of having AAA representing the "best" pearl grade, the quadruple AAAA is used to represent AAA grade pearls, and the AAA actually represents the AA+ grade, with subsequent downgrades in pearl quality all the way down the line.
So you think you're buying AAA (aka the best quality) at a lesser price than you'd pay here, you're still only getting AA+ Quality pearls, and shelling out a premium for AAAA pearls that are the equivalent of our AAA. Often this inflation of the grading scale isn't properly described, and many customers new to pearls and unfamiliar with the intricacies of pearl grading end up disappointed.
Pro-Tip: Ask to see a detailed description with specific criteria for each pearl grade so you know exactly where you stand. It’s easier to compare apples to apples that way.
Explaining Pearl Grading Systems
Akoya and Freshwater Pearl Grading
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I don’t stock any inventory for either Akoya or Freshwater pearls graded under AA+ Quality due to customer satisfaction and quality control issues.
Tahitian/South Sea Pearl Grading
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To maintain a high level of quality for all my customers, I only stock AAA Quality Tahitian and South Sea pearl pendants, earrings and rings. This means that all our Tahitian and South Sea pearl jewelry will set clean with the brightest luster and prettiest overtones.
So, what’s the deal with AA+/AAA type grades?
A Note About "Gem" Grade Pearls …
I always keep a special eye out for rare and beautiful pearls on buying trips each year, and regularly send out special email updates for collectors about the newest treasures I come across. These items are not typically offered on the site as a standard item to be ordered due to rarity and pricing issues (and they move fast!). Feel free to contact me directly if you’re looking for one of a kind, rare items Ashley@purepearls.com or sign up for the Collector’s Email List.
Common Pearl Blemishes
Dents/Divots: Medium to large indentations in the nacre. These can be deep or shallow, match the body color of the pearl, or be a brownish/greyish color.
Score Marks: Scoring is usually light, pencil thin (or slimmer) lines in the nacre. The majority of the time, these marks are colorless and usually not noticeable.
Bulleting/Mottling: A light plating pattern formed on the surface of the pearl while the pearl is formed inside its host oyster. Mottling is not considered an inclusion, as it is actually indicative of thick nacre layers and does not count against the pearls A-AAA grade.
Knobs/Tips: These are a growth characteristics, and not necessarily determined to be inclusions. These extrusions form on the end of a baroque-shaped pearl, and can be long or short, bubble-like or pointed. These knobs and tips do not usually affect the durability of the pearl as long as they are not chipped. These features can add touches of unique, artistic flair to a baroque strand of pearls.
Pin pricks: Very small indentations in the nacre. These can be small, individual marks, or grouped together to create a larger area of surface blemishing. Pin prick inclusions do not affect the long-term durability of the pearl, and are colorless or match the pearl’s body color.
Circles: Circling is also another growth characteristic of baroque pearls, with concentric rings running around the circumference of the pearls. They can be very subtle, or grouped together heavily, and impart a one-of-a-kind artistic look to the pearls.
About the Author
I’ve been with Pure for well over 10 years and am incredibly passionate about what I do! My 15 year career in the jewelry industry spans working in the precious colored gemstone wholesale sector, as well as stints in diamond bridal jewelry manufacturing division. I earned my GIA Pearls certificate in 2004.
I’ve written extensively about pearls for many online trade publications including Jewellery Net Asia, the CPAA (Cultured Pearl Association of America), and of course, Pearl-Guide.com on all things pearl-related.
Feel free to email me with any questions or issues – I am always happy to help!