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Pearl Grading

The 7 Value Factors in Grading Pearls

Akoya Cultured Pearls

Akoya Cultured Pearls



When it comes to pearl grading, there are seven factors which are considered most important when you grade pearls and determine their value. While it is important to consider these qualities when selecting your own pearl, keep in mind that grading pearls to select the perfect pearl is a subjective process. The pearls you select need not exhibit near-perfection in each of these areas - they need only resonate with you. 


Have you noticed that the surface of certain pearls possesses a three-dimensional shimmering glow? Have you seen your reflection peering back at you from a pearl's iridescent facade? Pearl admirers and those experts who grade pearls agree that pearl luster is the most important quality. When grading pearls which are especially nice, you'll see that a high luster pearl seems to radiate light from within - it is entrancing. Low luster pearls, by contrast, seem dull, their surfaces appearing chalky. It is pearls' luster that makes them so seductive, magical, intoxicating. It sets them apart from other gems.


The examples below (shown with Tahitian Black Pearls) illustrate the difference in luster grades: 


Good Pearl Luster

High Pearl Luster   Very High Pearl Luster
Good   Better  Best


Pearl Shape

While a round pearl is often thought to represent the perfect pearl shape, relatively few pearls are actually round. In fact, pearls come in a variety of other shapes: near-round, button pearl, oval, baroque pearls, semi-baroque, drop pearl, and circle. Keep this in mind in your pearl grading. Asymmetrical pearls have a charm of their own and are appreciated for their unique character - their inimitable shape, after all, was created entirely by nature and will never be repeated. Uniquely shaped pearls have become popular in the avant-garde designs that characterize many styles of modern jewelry.


There is a direct correlation between pearl size and what a pearl is worth: a larger pearl usually commands a higher price. Nonetheless, in grading pearls, pearl size is also a matter of personal preference. Smaller pearls (3-5 millimeters) are appreciated for being delicate and subtle - captivating in their own right. Larger pearls (over 9 millimeters) are perceived as extravagant, magnificent, spectacular. The average Akoya cultured pearls sold today are between 7 and 7.5 millimeters in size. Tahitian Pearls are popular in 10-12mm, South Sea pearls in 12-15mm.


The examples below, again shown with Tahitian Black Pearls, show how pearl millimeter size compares with inches and centimeters (approximates actual size on a 1024x768 computer monitor.) 



9 mm


10 mm


11 mm


12 mm


13 mm


14 mm


15 mm








Color represents another personal preference; no one pearl color is inherently superior. Skin tone is often considered when selecting a color: pearls with golden or cream tones tend to look best on darker skin, while pearls that are white, silver, or rose are most striking against fair skin. In the U.S., white or pink pearls are most popular. Elsewhere, the most sought-after colors include white, pink, silver, and golden pearls.


The pearl surface quality of a valuable pearl will be mostly clear of imperfections - blemishes, pits, and cracks. A pearl with a completely "perfect" complexion and very high luster is very rare. Like an unusually shaped pearl, a pearl exhibiting distinctive markings is unique, and possesses a character all its own. Keep in mind that each marking was created naturally. In this respect, minor variations in surface are best thought of as original "birthmarks", created by the forces of nature.

The examples below, shown with a Tahitian Black Pearl, show how examples of differing surface qualities. 







 Very Clean

Very Clean


Pearls which do not have thick nacre may show cracks or chipping around the drill holes, and should always be avoided.


When looking at multiple pearls which will be worn together, be sure that they look beautiful together! As a general rule, pearls worn together should be similar with regards to each of the Value Factors described above.

The Bottom Line

The Seven Value Factors complement and balance each other. A small pearl with high luster can equal or surpass the cost of a significantly larger - though less lustrous - pearl. Personal taste is probably the most important factor of all: if you purchase a pearl you love, it will bring you years of beauty and happiness.

Anandia Pearls Grading Scale

The Anandia Pearl Grading System rates quality pearls which found only in the top 1 - 2% of all pearls produced. This scale ranges from AAA to A, with AAA being the highest grade. Lower grades (which includes the lower 98% of all pearls produced) are not included. The AAA-A grading scale is common industry-wide for freshwater pearls and Akoya pearls, and is also widely accepted for South Sea pearls and Tahitian black pearls. This scale is as follows:

  • AAA pearl: The highest-quality pearl, virtually flawless. The surface will have a very high luster, and at least 95% of the surface will be free from any type of defect.
  • AA: The surface will have a very high luster, and at least 75% of the surface will be free from any type of defect.
  • A: This is the lowest jewelry-grade pearl, with a good luster and with no more than 25% of the surface showing defects. In most cases, this grade of pearl is mounted so that the defects are hidden - thus providing a beautiful jewelry piece at a lower price.

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