Pearls and Their Shapes

If you have made it this far in our blog, chances are that you are a bit more savvy when it comes to purchasing pearls than the average person. Now, when a sales clerk presents you with a strand of pearls that has poor surface clarity, high luster and the grading of AAA – you now know to run.

Now, we are going to take what you have learned and push you just a bit further. One aspect of the overall pearl grading system is their shape. The shape of the pearl does not factor into their overall grading – but it is very important to be familiar with. Commonly people believe that all pearls are round. This is a common misconception for a  very good reason. Akoya Pearls are the most common type of pearl and if you see a woman wearing a beautiful strand of pearls – chances are that they are Akoyas. While Akoya Pearls can come in different shapes, the most common shape is round or near round. This round or near round shape is a result of the way that they are farmed and cultivated. As a result of the popularity of Akoya Pearls, many people assume that round is the only shape pearls come in.

Here we are going to give you a visual illustration of the different shapes of pearls – starting with the most well known: the round and near round shaped pearl. At Seven Seas Pearls, when a pearl is classified as “round” this means that it is literally a perfect round. It is common for this term “round” to be used loosely by many people and sometimes while a pearl may appear round, it won’t be a perfect round. If a pearl is round – but not perfect, it is given the classification of near round.

Here is an excellent illustration of a perfectly round pearl (on the left) and a near round pearl on the right. Can you see the subtle differences?

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A pearl shape that you may have seen, but not recognized until now is what is referred to as baroque pearls. These are pearls that are irregular in shape, they are gorgeous free forms and each pearl is unique. Some pearls are classified as “baroque” and some are classified as semi baroque. As you can see from the image below, the one on the left is a baroque pearl and the one on the right is a semi baroque. The semi baroque is still irregular in shape – but not as much as the other baroque pearl.

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The last common shape of pearl classification that we are going to review are tear drop pearls. Commonly, these pearls are referred to pear shaped pearls – but this term is not accurate. As you can imagine, tear drop pearls are in the shape of a tear – rounded at one end and pointed and the other. While these types of pearls are irregular in shape – they are not baroque pearls. Below is a great visual illustration of a round pearl, a baroque pearl and a tear drop pearl.

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In our next blog we will explore the differences between fresh and saltwater pearls. – We might even teach you how to tell them apart, stay tuned!

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What to Look for When Understanding a Pearl’s Grade

Pearls are very much like fine wine – did we catch your attention? Well, it’s true. If you know nothing about wine, you may be able to appreciate the taste of a reserve Syrah, but if you know what to look for in the tannins, the bouquet, the color – chances are you will be tasting the same wine with a whole new perspective and appreciation. The same goes for pearls. To an untrained eye, they are just little round shiny gems of the sea. But to someone who knows what to look for, they bring on a whole new appreciation for their color, their shape, luster, nacre and overtones. It is for this reason that we have dedicated the past couple of blogs to educating consumers on what to look for when purchasing pearls. To an untrained or unknowing eye, varying quality pearl strands can look the same under a shiny glass case.

In our past blogs we explained the industry standards for grading pearls in contrast to how we grade pearls at Seven Seas Pearls. In case you need a refresher, at Seven Seas Pearls we use the same AAA-A grading system that is widely used in the United States. However, we take this grading system a step further. We grade pearls separately on its clarity, nacre and luster. For example, a pearl may receive the grade of AA for its surface clarity, AAA for its luster and have top rated nacre. While this pearl scored incredibly high in two of the three areas, it will still only receive the overall grade of AA – according to our standards at Seven Seas Pearls. This is a very important point to understand when purchasing pearls. Additionally, we have added a grading criterion to describe pearls that are essentially perfect. The traditional AAA-A grading system only goes as high to rate pearls that have a 90%-98% clean surface. At Seven Seas Pearls, we have added the rating AAA Flawless to describe pearls that have a 99.99% clean surface. – As you can see, there is a large discrepancy between 90% and 99.99%. The same is true for luster. At Seven Seas Pearls, pearls that have perfect luster are given the rating of AAA Gem, if the nacre is excellent; it is rated “top”. Many pearls on today’s market receive just an overall grade, as you now know; this is not how we grade our pearls at Seven Seas Pearls. To make sure you know exactly the quality of pearls you are getting, it is important to look at the grading for each of the three categories.

You might be thinking that as long as the pearl is rated AA or AAA for clarity what does it matter? Well, it matters a lot – and we will show you.

Here is an excellent example of a pearl that has perfect surface clarity – but very poor luster. See how it compares to the more lustrous pearl on the right? If you were going to buy a pearl that had received the grading of AAA for its surface clarity, chances are you would be disappointed because the luster is almost non-existent. While the clarity is perfect, chances are not many women would be excited about wearing a pearl strand that lacked the expected shine and glow.

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Additionally, pearls can have incredible luster but have poor surface clarity. These pearls are easy to fall in love with upon first glance. But a closer second look will reveal a flawed surface. Pearls with a high luster help conceal surface imperfections – which is part of the reason why you should always know how the pearl is graded. Both of these pearls below have incredible luster, they would glow in a room from a distance – but can you see the surface flaws in the pearl on the right? See how it compares to the smooth and perfect surface of the pearl on the left?

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We hope that the various grading scales and the importance of having a pearl graded separately by its clarity, nacre and luster make a bit more sense now. In our next blog we will talk about and give visual explanations to the various shapes of pearls.  Check back soon!

How Pearls are Graded by the Industry and by Seven Seas Pearls

If you read our last blog, then by now you probably have a solid basic understanding of how pearls are graded and some of the criteria involved in determining the grade that a pearl receives. In our last blog, we highlighted the similarities and differences between how pearls and diamonds are graded. As we previously mentioned, universally, pearls are graded as a whole piece. At Seven Seas Pearls, each pearl is graded by the individual criteria – luster, nacre and surface clarity and then averaged out for an overall grade. Additionally, we have added an additional category of grading pearls that are flawless, have the best possible luster and have the best possible nacre. Our method of grading ensures that our clients fully understand the exact quality of the pearl they are receiving.

The most common method of grading pearls in the industry is the AAA-A pearl grading system. As could be inferred from the name (AAA-A) pearls with a rating of AAA are considered to be the highest quality. These pearls are virtually flawless and will have a very high luster and excellent nacre (more on that later). At least 95% of the pearl surface will be free of defects.

At Seven Seas Pearls, we have added an additional category for the pearls that are flawless, have the best possible luster and nacre. For pearls that have 99.9% of their surface free from defects, we rate these pearls AAA Flawless. Pearls that have the best possible luster for that type of pearl are rated AAA Gem, and if the nacre is excellent, it is rated “top”. For example, according to the way Seven Seas Pearls grades pearls, the best possible pearl would be rated AAA Flawless for surface clarity, AAA Gem for luster and Top for the best nacre. In comparison to other rated pearls, they would receive a grade of AAA. Essentially, our grading system gives the buyer much more valuable information about the quality of pearl they have purchased. Moving forward, we will be referencing the AAA-A grading system with additional criteria (Flawless, Gem and Top) that we have added to it at Seven Seas Pearls.

This is an excellent example of an AAA Flawless rated pearl (on the left) and an A rated pearl (on the right). Can you see the difference in the surface clarity and luster?

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Pearls that have a grade of AA will also be very high in luster. The main difference between a pearl with a grading of AAA vs AA will be the surface defects. Pearls with the grading of AA will have at least 80% of the pearl surface free from defects.

Below is an example of two pearls one that is rated AAA and one that is rated AA. As you can see, the AAA rated pearl (one on the left) has a much cleaner surface and is free from defects. The AA rated pearl (the one on the right), while still stunning, has more surface defects than the AAA rated pearl.

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The lowest jewelry grade pearls will receive a grade of A. These pearls have significantly less luster and more than 25% of the pearl’s surface will have defects. Sometimes, pearls with a grading of “A” will be used in a piece of jewelry to camouflage the defects. Essentially, this allows people to purchase a beautiful piece of jewelry for a lower price.

Typically, at Seven Seas Pearls we do not offer pearls with the grading of “A”. While pearls with this grading are still beautiful, it is not the caliber of pearl we wish to offer our clients. Pearls with a rating of “A” will have surface defects of more than 35%. Additionally, the luster will be poor and the nacre will be thin. Below on the left is a AAA rated pearl and on the right is an “A” rated pearl. Can you see the difference in the luster and the surface clarity?

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In our next blog we will outline the importance of having the pearl clarity, nacre and luster graded separately and why this is an important consideration when buying a piece of pearl jewelry. Check back soon!

Note: I know that additionally there id AA+ and A+ in the grading system. This blog was already almost double the length it should ideally be, and I didn’t think that adding the additional two tiers was necessary since we are covering the basics. If you disagree, just please let me know and I’ll put it in. Thanks!