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!

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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!

How Pearls are Graded

If you love the intricate beauty of pearls, then you have come to the right place. Our goal with this blog is to help educate people on what distinguishes one pearl from another as well as develop a deeper appreciation for these exquisite gems of the sea.

For starters, there are two main classes of pearls – saltwater and freshwater pearls. The majority of freshwater pearls are farmed in China. Saltwater pearls are known for their high luster. In contrast to oysters that Saltwater pearls come from, Freshwater pearls come from mussels. Universally, saltwater pearls are considered to be of very high value. In a future blog, we will spend more time outlining the vast difference in quality between salt and freshwater pearls. For the most part, the overwhelming majority of this blog will be solely dedicated to the discussion of saltwater pearls.

Pearls are graded in a very similar fashion to diamonds. Pearls however have their own grading scale. At Seven Seas Pearls, there is always a certified GIA (Gemological Institute of America) Pearl Graduate on site so you can be sure you are getting the exact quality you are paying for. For the time being, there are two systems of grading that are commonly used: the AAA – A system and the A-D system. The AAA – A system is the most popular system of grading in the United States and is also the system that Seven Seas Pearls uses to grade pearls.  While this is the system we use, we also take our grading one step further (we will explain more about that in a bit). Because the AAA -A grading system is the most popular and also the system we use, we will explore how pearls are graded according to this system in this blog.

Many people are very familiar with the diamond grading scale. The two most important criteria for diamonds to be graded on are the color and clarity. If you have ever spent time looking at diamonds, you know that it is very important to have a balance of these two factors. A diamond that has brilliant color can appear lifeless and dull if the clarity is poor. Adversely, if a diamond has perfect clarity and the color is off, again the diamond would be less than desirable.

Typically pearls are graded as a whole piece – this is very different from diamonds. Diamonds are graded individually on cut, color, clarity and carat. At Seven Seas Pearls, we feel that it is important to grade each pearl individually on their luster, surface clarity and nacre. At Seven Seas Pearls, when a pearl is graded in each of these categories, the overall grade is averaged out to be the official grade of the pearl. Very similar to diamonds, if a pearl has excellent luster and nacre, but the surface clarity is not desirable, then you are left with a pearl necklace that while lustrous, has many demarcations.

At Seven Seas Pearls we believe that there is a flaw in the traditional AAA-A grading system. The grading system as it currently exists, does not allow for pearls that are flawless, have perfect luster or top nacre. As a result, we have added an additional category that describes pearls that have a 99.99% clean surface; we label these pearls as “AAA Flawless”. As we mentioned, we grade each pearl individually on their surface clarity, luster and nacre. While the traditional grading system averages out all aspects for an overall grade, we feel that this does not accurately represent the value of the pearl. Therefore, in terms of luster, we have added another category: AAA Gem – a pearl that is rated with AAA Gem by Seven Seas Pearls will have the best possible luster for that type of pearl.  The nacre is also a very important aspect of determining the overall pearl grade. At Seven Seas Pearls, we have five categories for determining the quality of nacre: Top, Very Thick, Thick, Medium and Thin. Below is a chart that will give an excellent visual explanation for how we grade our pearls at Seven Seas Pearls.

 

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At Seven Seas Pearls, we feel that pearl education should consist of at least three important but separate criteria 1.) Pearl origin and the difference between salt and freshwater pearls 2.) The clarity of the pearl surface and 3.) The luster and nacre of a pearl.

Now that we have introduced you to how pearls are graded, we invite you to see and examine the difference for yourselves in these images. The first image is an excellent example of how important surface clarity is. Can you see the difference between these two pearls? One is smooth and clean and the other has many demarcations.

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This is an excellent example of luster. One pearl has excellent luster – the other is very poor. Luster refers to the shine of the pearl. Many people feel that the luster is the most important aspect to look for in a pearl – but while a pearl may have excellent luster, if the nacre is thin – the luster won’t last long.

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In a future blog we will discuss more in detail the importance of nacre – but these two images are an excellent visual example of why nacre is so important.

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In our next blog we will go more in depth as to how our grading system and the standard grading system of pearls works. Check back soon for our next blog!