Pearls can differ greatly in price, so it's important for anyone interested in pearls to learn how pearls are graded. One way to help determine the value of a pearl is to grade the pearls. As such they are usually graded on five different qualities; size, shape, colour, lustre and surface.
Generally the larger the pearl, the more valuable, however there are some exceptions. For example, a smaller pearl with a better lustre could be more valuable, particularly if the smaller pearl has taken longer to grow than a larger one.
Pearls come in many different shape and sizes. The most common shapes are the fully round, the semi-round, drop, the potato, the semi-baroque and the full baroque. Generally, the rounder the pearl the more expensive, however a well formed drop pearl or a semi- baroque natural pearl can give the fully round pearl a good run for its money.
There are at least two aspects to the colour of a pearl. The first is the actual colour of the pearl. If it is a Tahitian pearl it will normally be a shade of blue, green or black. A South Sea pearl will usually be white, off-white or golden. Freshwater pearls are normally white, peach or apricot in colour and other variations are usually dyed. (Note: coloured pearls can still be beautiful, it’s just important to know that they have been coloured.)
The second aspect of colour is the tinge. If it is a seawater pearl, does it have a slight red or blue tinge? For Akoya pearls, a rich red tinge can add significant value to a pearl necklace or earrings.
Related to colour, the lustre or richness of the colour is an important factor in determining the value of a pearl. Generally, the richer and deeper, the more expensive the pearl can be. Indeed, one supplier likens lustre to location in real estate as being a key factor in determining value.
Obviously, the fewer imperfections on a pearl the better.
A low quality pearl can have lots of marks all around the surface. A high quality pearl might have only one or two marks, small in size and closer together. Often, jewellers will drill through these imperfections and use a setting to hide the marks. They also make sure that most visible markings are at the back of the pendant or earrings, called presenting the “happy face”, where the least amount of markings are visible from the front.
Different Grading Systems
As far as we can tell, there is no universal system to grading pearls. There is also a lot of subjectivity within the grading process - especially since people tend to self-grade their own product.
The two commonest systems are based on an letter grading system. The grading of AAA to B is more commonly associated with freshwater pearls. The very best pearls in this system would be the AAA pearls. Sometimes people add an extra A to create a AAAA grade which can add further confusion to the novice.
The second system is the A to D system, which is used to grade some seawater pearls. The A is the second best with Gem Quality being the highest grade of pearls.
Overall: It is a combination of a number of factors that will determine the final value of a pearl. A round pearl with lots of imperfections and poor lustre is probably going to be worth less than a semi-baroque pearl with reasonable surface and good lustre. That said some women love the imperfect pearl, seeing them as having kisses from Mother Nature and the imperfections showing that the pearl is more likely to be genuine.
Get The Basics Here
Learn more about pearls:
- How To Tell If Pearls Are Real
- Five Ways To Care For Your Pearls
- The Difference Between Freshwater And Seawater Pearls
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