Pearl Grading

How Pearl Grades Works

What is Pearl Grading?

According to the, “pearl grading is the practice of assigning degrees of quality to a pearl or piece of pearl jewelry based on the quality attributes designated by industry best practices and authority groups such as GIA and EGL.”

In other words, grading is a method by which sellers and buyers have come together to designate a system that qualifies the quality of a pearl so that price can be equally agreed upon between producers and consumers. This makes purchasing pearls easier for consumers because there are standards that everyone can agree upon to label the true value of one of these organic gems. However, while there are two standard systems for grading that most reputable pearl merchants will use – the AAA-A Grading System and the A-D Grading System – it is important to remember that there is currently no universally accepted method within the pearl industry. It is, however, expected for there to be a standard system eventually, one that will be more than likely created, developed, and maintained by the Gemological Institute of America.

What Do You Need To Know About The AAA-A System

Exclusively used in the appraisal of akoya and freshwater pearls, the AAA-A Grading System is at times also accepted and used by many when it comes to Tahitian and South Sea pearls as well. This particular system appoints a grade to a pearl based on an AAA to A scale, with an AAA grade being the highest possible mark. Here is a break-down of what each grade means:

AAA: This is the highest possible grade that can be assigned to a pearl. Simply put it means that the pearl is nearly flawless. A high and brilliant luster along with at least 95% of a defect-free surface is what a pearl requires to earn this high grade.

AA: The second highest grade possible within this system lowers the expectations by just a bit. A very high and brilliant luster is still required but this time the pearl only needs to have 75% of a defect-free surface.

A: And finally, the lowest grade on this system does not require as high a luster and allows for 25% or more of the surface to show some sort of damage or defect. Regardless of their low score on the grading system, it is not uncommon for jewelers to use one of these pearls. A pearl with this particular grade can easily be mounted onto a piece of jewelry in such a way that allows for defects to be hidden, thus resulting in a truly lovely piece that can be offered at a lower price.

What Do You Need To Know About The A-D System (or Tahitian System)

This is a very straightforward system, which places pearls on a scale that begins with A as the highest mark and ends with D as the lowest. This particular system is based on government standards and is predominantly used in French Polynesia to grade South Sea and Tahitian Pearls. That is why, at times, the A-D Grading System will be referred to as the “Tahitian System.” While this is a standard grading system in many of the countries that produce pearls, other markets will defer to the AAA-A system.

A: This is the highest grade possible within this system and it means that a pearl has the most luminous and brilliant luster and that less than 10% of its surface has imperfections – and even those are minimal.

B: This grade is the second highest and it assures a high to medium luster, which is quite beautiful. Overall the surface of the pearl may have imperfections, some of which will be visible, but the degree of the imperfections would not cover more than 30% of the gem.

C: As the third grade in the system the overall luster of the pearl falls into the medium range. This particular grade will also have more visible defects over 60% or less of the pearls surface.

D: Being the last grade in this system, the luster of the pearl becomes irrelevant and scoring falls completely on the level of defects—deep and shallow—which present themselves on the pearls surface. Regardless of luster, if a pearl has extensive blemishes along its surface it will be given a D grade and it will be considered unacceptable for use in jewelry. Selections for this low grade are made in the following way:

-A pearl might have slight defects, none of which are particularly deep, but they are spread on over 60% of its surface.
-A pearl might have very deep imperfections that transcend the surface 60% or less of its surface.
-A pearl can have a mixture of shallow or deep imperfections on 60% or more of its surface.

The Concluding Factor In Grading Pearls Is Nacre
While the grading methods that we have discussed (AAA-A Grading System and A-D Grading System) have kept luster and surface quality as the primary focus in determining pearl grades and therefore value, we have to keep in mind that there are multiple factors that are not directly taken into account. The thickness of the nacre, which is the very essence of a pearl, is one of the most vital factors in the longevity of one of these organic gems. The thicker the nacre, the longer the pearl has been allowed to develop within the mollusk—and the older the pearl the stronger and more resilient it is (so long as it is well cared for). If you’re thinking about purchasing pearls, keep this in mind and inquire as to the thickness of the nacre found in the product.

Please note that that the A-D Grading System can be interchanged with the AAA-A Grading System. If you would like to learn more about this please refer to: The Name of the Potential Article.