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Pearl Grading Resource

4Ranch Girl

Brilliant_Rock
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I refer to these articles often. I think it is great to have so much information plus pictures all in one spot.
 

arkieb1

Ideal_Rock
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Purepearls Akoya Grading Chart;

hanadama-akoya2.jpg
Minimum nacre thickness 0.4mm each side of pearl.
Luster is very sharp with very high rate of reflection.
Easily recognized facial features may be observed in pearl surfaces.
Reflected light sources have very crisp, distinctive edges.
Blemish rate between 0-5% on each pearl surface.
Earrings will set clean.
Strands will be clean to the eye upon inspection.
Near-perfect matching; little to no variation in color, tone, luster, shape or size.


akoya-aaa-quality_0.jpg
Visibly thick nacre up to 0.4mm or more.
Luster is very sharp with high rate of reflection.
Easily recognized facial features may be observed in pearl surfaces.
Reflected light sources have crisp, distinctive edges.
Blemish rate is less than 5% on each pearl surface.
Earrings will set clean.
Strands will appear clean to the eye upon inspection.
Near-perfect matching; little to no variation in color, tone, luster, shape or size.


aa_-akoya.jpg
Visibly thick nacre.
Luster is sharp with good rate of reflection, recognizable facial features.
Reflected light sources have sharp edges; slight blurring can be seen.
Blemish rate is between 5-10% on each pearl surface.
Earrings will set clean on the front.
Strands will appear mostly clean to the eye upon inspection.
Very good to excellent matching; very little variation in color, tone, luster, shape or size.


aa-akoya.jpg
Thinner nacre; up close inspection may reveal bead nucleus.
Luster is good; fair rate of reflection.
Reflected light sources have blurred, satiny edges.
Blemish rate is less than 15-20% on each pearl surface.
Earrings will not set clean.
Strands will appear slightly spotted to the eye upon inspection.
Good to very good matching; very little variation in color, tone, luster, shape or size.


a-akoya.jpg
Thin nacre; up close inspection reveals bead nucleus.
Luster is fair to poor; low rate of reflection.
Pearl appearance may be somewhat chalky.
Reflected light sources have blurry, satiny edges.
Blemish rate is less than 30% on each pearl surface.
Strands will appear spotted to the eye upon inspection.
Good to very good matching; very little variation in color, tone, luster, shape or size.


Hanadama translates to "Spherical Flower" from Japanese; this is the highest grade any Akoya pearl can attain, and they are comparable to Mikimoto's "AAA" Grade pearls. Each strand or pair of earrings is accompanied by an individually numbered gemological certificate from the Pearl Science Laboratory in Tokyo, Japan. Please note that a grade of "Hanadama" does not exclude the pearls from tiny or even microscopic inclusions- for this reason, no pearl can ever be sold using the term "flawless".

PurePearls.com does not offer Akoya pearls below AA+ quality, and never uses AAAA or AAA+ grades to describe pearl quality; these are not industry-wide accepted grades.
 

arkieb1

Ideal_Rock
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The guides are wonderful BUT Ashley also states many times over there are no definitive Industry standards. In my case I bought near round Akoyas expecting that they would follow the grading chart above roughly and then was told by a couple of members and the vendor that this is incorrect because they are classified as "baroque pearls." So the issue has arisen that two members got the pearls that have printed on the certificates that they are less than 95% blemish free when clearly by my definition and by the above definition they are not and that they are AAA quality when, according to the above chart that would be incorrect as well.

So my question is, if it's O.K for "baroque pearls" near round pearls, and off round pearls to be measured by a different grading standard for lustre where is the standard, what is the standard? To which the answer is there isn't one - so how can the consumer know comfortably exactly what they are going to get? In my case it's not inexpensive to ship pearls back and forth across the world so getting it wrong costs everyone (the vendor too) time and money.
 

cmd2014

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I think that's been a concern for many of us. It would be nice if there was a universal grading system which offered consistency between vendors and between purchases. I have even bought similarly graded strands from the same vendor, only to have inconsistency in blemishing. It's frustrating. Or AAA strands that clearly have lesser pearls on the strand. Plus, what's up with "surface clean" descriptions that go on to describe blemishes? Are those not mutually exclusive? Its the bane of online shopping because in person you'd just evaluate the piece and decide if it's to your expectations before buying.
 

enbcfsobe

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Thanks for posting all of these -- I am having similar trouble evaluating baroque/keshi type freshwater pearls online. It does seem that in addition to the lack of consistency among vendors, there isn't much information about how non-round pearls are evaluated. I'm not really sure how to read the photos. I'd love to hear any suggestions, especially when it comes to buying loose pearls from the suggested ebay vendors. I've read some of the info on the other forum but still didn't find anything that gives guidance for interpreting photos (which I know are notoriously difficult to take). I'm drawn to the idea of being able to buy something that I have the basic skills to work with (not a knotter but I know how to bead/wire wrap) so that unlike my many unset colored stones getting dusty because setting them costs too much and is too overwhelmingly permanent, I might buy something that will actually get used and worn. Thanks in advance for helping out a newbie!
 

pearlsngems

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I've been reading Strack's book and things are making a bit more sense to me now.

See page 378 for her discussion of surface in akoyas.
Flat spots and the "hammered" look are evidence of very good nacre thickness and are not an inclusion (blemish).

Quoting the final paragraph on page 378:
"Generally speaking and contrary to a frequently voiced opinion in the general public, surface characteristics are graded quite generously. Consumers may tend to judge them more severely than necessary, as they are easier to spot than other quality factors."

I think shape and color are not part of the A to AAA grading system, but they do affect price, naturally. Thus rounds are valued the highest, no surprise there, but drops can still be AAA. As I understand it, the letter grades are for surface (how clean it is of inclusions) and for luster.

Don't forget there are lots of pearls in a strand. The grade of the strand is based on the overall qualities of the pearls in the strand; individual pearls may have more or fewer inclusions.

I wish I could find where I read this yesterday (did a lot of reading) but I've read that a AAA strand can have some pearls that are AA+;
a AA+ strand can have some pearls that are AA, etc. So then a AA+/AAA strand could have pearls ranging from AA to AAA.
 

cmd2014

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Pearlsngems,

On the other forum, I recall there was consensus among vendors that if a strand is sold as a certain grade, that ALL pearls on the strand should meet that grade. Otherwise the range should be indicated (i.e. AA+ to AAA), as this is an issue which does and should affect price. However despite this apparent consensus, I agree with you that this is not what often happens in reality. As an online consumer, I have to admit that this annoys me when it happens.
 

Frost Me

Brilliant_Rock
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Pearlsngems Hoping you will come across what you read and the author. IMHO, I expect a AAA Strand would not have the variables you have stated above. On many reputable vendors websites they use the AAA grading system with descriptions of what it consist of.

For example:
Flawless on at least 90% of the pearl's surface, a single deep inclusion allowed. This is where I would like vendor opinions and photos of what 10% looks like? How deep is one deep inclusion?
 

ennui

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pearlsngems|1430674017|3871572 said:
Quoting the final paragraph on page 378:
"Generally speaking and contrary to a frequently voiced opinion in the general public, surface characteristics are graded quite generously. Consumers may tend to judge them more severely than necessary, as they are easier to spot than other quality factors."
This is an understatement. :angel:

I appreciate the desire to understand the grading system, but I'm not sure how it helps. Clearly, most of the consumers on this forum have high expectations, but I'm not sure what the goal is. I'd suggest that if ripples and bubbles and bumps bother you, stay away from baroques, ripples and keshis. If you have a fine-tuned sensibility of what you want, maybe it's best to buy in person and not over the internet. When you see a pearl in a jewelry store, you can judge the lustre and condition, and AAA or AA or AAAA isn't even mentioned.

With regard to "Flawless on at least 90% of the pearl's surface, a single deep inclusion allowed. This is where I would like vendor opinions and photos of what 10% looks like? How deep is one deep inclusion?" It's easy to draw a circle, and determine 10%. As for how deep, does it really matter? A freshwater pearl is all nacre, so the inclusion could be a lot deeper than an inclusion on a sea water pearl. How would you measure the depth, anyway?

I guess I just don't understand this intense debate. Pearls are organic, birthed by mollusks. They will each have nature's thumbprint.
 

cmd2014

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ennui|1430681802|3871598 said:
I guess I just don't understand this intense debate. Pearls are organic, birthed by mollusks. They will each have nature's thumbprint.
From my perspective it's about confidence in what I'm purchasing, and whether it's as described. That last piece is the only protection an online buyer has in terms of PayPal or eBay if there is ever a refund dispute, and makes a difference when you're paying shipping outside of the US. It costs me $78 to send anything back to the U.S. (uninsured), plus what I lose in shipping the item to me ($35), exchange (20%), taxes and duty (15% minimum on the 20% post-exchange rate price)...none of which is refundable, so my return amount ends up being quite a bit less than what I spent to buy something. So while I appreciate the generous return policies of most online vendors, I'd appreciate it a whole lot more if I could accurately predict what exactly it is that I'm buying. Natural light pictures and accurate descriptions/pictures of blemishing/other surface issues would go a long way IMO. For example, none of the vendors say that baroque pearls are exempt from their grading standards. And they use the grading standards to describe baroque strands/pearls....so I can see people being upset when they get something other than expected based on the info provided by the vendor, only to be told by the vendor that it doesn't count for that product that the vendor themselves used the grading system to describe.
 

pearlsngems

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cmd2014|1430688339|3871638 said:
...For example, none of the vendors say that baroque pearls are exempt from their grading standards. And they use the grading standards to describe baroque strands/pearls....
That was just me wondering on the other thread if there were there were other standards for grading baroques.

But from what I've been reading it seems that shape is not one of the considerations in deciding the A-AAA grade, although it does affect value.
Edit: And now I'm not even sure of that, reading Strack p. 368, where in one grading system (International Gemmological Institute in NY) various qualities are assigned points and they add up to a grade. I gather this is more complicated than I realized.
Edit again! Strack says on p.553 that the grade for Tahitians is based on surface and luster.

cmd, I think your best course of action is asking for lots of photos before buying. That said, IRL photos can vary as well. I took photos today of one of my strands in my kitchen and in my living room, and they look vastly different in the two rooms, despite both having windows with natural light coming in.

I'm also thinking there is no way that pearl grading can be entirely objective. Even though there are guidelines, surely the vendors grade partially based on their experience with many pearls over many years.
 

Frost Me

Brilliant_Rock
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ennui|1430681802|3871598 said:
It's easy to draw a circle, and determine 10%. As for how deep, does it really matter? A freshwater pearl is all nacre, so the inclusion could be a lot deeper than an inclusion on a sea water pearl. How would you measure the depth, anyway?
ennui, No. I don't think it's easy to draw a circle and determine the 10% rule for a AAA pearls, that has been established by the reputable vendors, that they make claim to and post on their sites. Yes, it must matter how deep an exclusion is, I would not except a bead showing or deep hole on a AAA pearl or strand. I have received AAA pearl strands with more than 10% blemishing. Very confusing for the consumer.

I guess I just don't understand this intense debate.
ennui, It's not an intense debate, it is a discussion and education for all of us to understand how pearls and strands are graded, what counts, what does not, what is acceptable, what is not.

I feel it is a very interesting subject that I am eager to understand better. :angel:
 

ennui

Brilliant_Rock
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995
I think any grading debate is moot because there is no universal grading system. One vendor's AAA is another vendor's AA is another vendor's AAAA.

Mikimoto's grading system (the first in the US) uses AAA and AA and A+, etc. They don't use AA+.

So, a customer still can't determine what they're getting. It depends on the vendor.
 

Lovinggems

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Grading debate aside, the articles have lots of useful information, should make it a sticky for easy referencing.
 

pearlsngems

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Lovinggems|1430740290|3871833 said:
Grading debate aside, the articles have lots of useful information, should make it a sticky for easy referencing.
I don't see it as a debate, just informative articles and discussion.

Until I take the GIA pearl course, or handle tens of thousands of them personally, I will not consider myself competent to grade pearls.
But the articles help.
 

icy_jade

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I think this is a great topic. My local stores and vendors don't seem to use a grading system but surface blemishes are usually quite minimal compared to the online ones I've seen and purchased. So the key differentiator locally seems to be luster and color rather than blemishes. Or maybe I've been looking at gem grade pearls? I dunno. Questions like this makes me think that I should go through the GIA course.
 

Lovinggems

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icy_jade|1430746019|3871866 said:
I think this is a great topic. My local stores and vendors don't seem to use a grading system but surface blemishes are usually quite minimal compared to the online ones I've seen and purchased. So the key differentiator locally seems to be luster and color rather than blemishes. Or maybe I've been looking at gem grade pearls? I dunno. Questions like this makes me think that I should go through the GIA course.
Based on your collection, maybe your eyes only see the gem grade pearls!
 

Lovinggems

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pearlsngems|1430742807|3871851 said:
Lovinggems|1430740290|3871833 said:
Grading debate aside, the articles have lots of useful information, should make it a sticky for easy referencing.
I don't see it as a debate, just informative articles and discussion.

Until I take the GIA pearl course, or handle tens of thousands of them personally, I will not consider myself competent to grade pearls.
But the articles help.
Ok I don't see anything negative with the word debate, if it bothers you just change debate to discussion.
My point is make the article links a sticky for easy referencing.
 

icy_jade

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Lovinggems|1430746355|3871871 said:
icy_jade|1430746019|3871866 said:
I think this is a great topic. My local stores and vendors don't seem to use a grading system but surface blemishes are usually quite minimal compared to the online ones I've seen and purchased. So the key differentiator locally seems to be luster and color rather than blemishes. Or maybe I've been looking at gem grade pearls? I dunno. Questions like this makes me think that I should go through the GIA course.
Based on your collection, maybe your eyes only see the gem grade pearls!
I'm a luster freak. Give me a tray of pearls and I'll zoom in on those with the best luster first... Then maybe color if there is any rare color/overtones. :twirl:
 

Frost Me

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Icy, You are so fortunate to see high quality pearls in person, visual inspection for each pearl can only lead to well thought-out buying decisions. I have seen your collection, it shows! My options are less than limited and must depend on high quality online vendors for most purchases, especially pearls, unless I travel afar. Grading standards and consistency from a quality vendor is very important to me!
 

Frost Me

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I will submit a photo. This shows heavy concentrated pings, bites, dents or maybe they are considered pin pricks, on one side of a 9 mm Tahitian pearl. I don't know what these markings are considered to be. I would say about 35 plus bites. Anyone know what caused this?

Any GIA pearl graduates or vendors chime in!
img_7741.jpg
 

yingh

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I found this discussion and information sharing very helpful.

It is probably safe to assume that those of us who visit PS have a passion and appreciation for pearls/gem stones. If you ask an average consumer on the street about Tahitian pearls, they probably know that those are black pearls. But here we know there are so many colors that Tahitians can have, for example. I think it is natural that we want to know more about pearl grading, especially since that is one of the most important factors affecting price.

Buying online allows us the freedom of choice (quality, selection, and price wise) that we won't have buying in person. Understanding how vendors that we frequent really helps to set the expectation - and lower the cost/time invested in purchasing and returning for both the consumers and the vendors. So getting comfortable with how a particular vendor grade the pearls are really important - it builds consumer confidence.

I too had wished that the vendors would use photos closer to IRL shots than those glamour shots. Although reputable vendors are always willing to provide additional pictures upon request, but that takes additional back and forth time and efforts. I don't know if that operational model still proven to be more effective for the vendors; to me, it consumes a lot of their resources too and potentially leads to more returns.
 

Pirard

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Very interesting discussion...and thank you to the poster who provided the reference links!

Maybe a consideration of how jewelry is purchased should be part of the conversation. In other words, we as consumers take the gradings given to jewelry to mean their minimum content. To the pearl world, a necklace made up of AA+ pearls may have a range with an average rating of AA+. To the consumer, we may be expecting the rating of AA+ to mean that no pearls would fall below this rating. Maybe that's where the lack of consistency is greatest? If some vendors use a minimum grade approach while others use an average grade approach (setting aside the variations in definitions of those grades, of course).
 

ckrickett

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Frost Me|1430754630|3871957 said:
I will submit a photo. This shows heavy concentrated pings, bites, dents or maybe they are considered pin pricks, on one side of a 9 mm Tahitian pearl. I don't know what these markings are considered to be. I would say about 35 plus bites. Anyone know what caused this?

Any GIA pearl graduates or vendors chime in!
img_7741.jpg
when I went to NM around Christmas time buying gifts, a lady at the jewelry counter saw my tahitian baroque necklaces and practically PUSHED me to the pearl area (I was walking past her to the fragrance counter). I figured what the hay, I'll see what they have for fun, and they pulled out this strand of round tahitians that were COVERED in pits and dents (like your picture but 60% of the pearls had them on 1/2 of their body) and the color was an ugly murky grey black (my baroques from PP looked glorious under the lighting). The only thing they had going for them was that they were about 12-14MM so they were quite large, but still. UGH and no luster looked like little grey black pebbles, and they wanted over $30,000 for them! I'd take that money and have Josh at Komako go WILD!

I don't mind if a pearl has a few little dents or dimples if the color and luster are magnificent! but a lot of dimples makes me wary. That picture of your pearl is 100000% prettier then the uggos at NM.
 

cmd2014

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Frost Me, I would consider those to be blemishes, personally. To me, an unblemished pearl is one without any visible wrinkles, pits, dips, or other marks/rings/streaks/spots or well...blemishes in the luster. So when I see AAA indicated, my assumption is that there may have been only one significant blemish on the pearl that was able to be set clean when drilled/strung. While I love luster and colour, I've also come to realize that I am picky about shape and surface quality. So I have champagne tastes on a beer budget. Life is so not fair!
 

Fly Girl

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cmd2014|1430862383|3872615 said:
Frost Me, I would consider those to be blemishes, personally. To me, an unblemished pearl is one without any visible wrinkles, pits, dips, or other marks/rings/streaks/spots or well...blemishes in the luster. So when I see AAA indicated, my assumption is that there may have been only one significant blemish on the pearl that was able to be set clean when drilled/strung. While I love luster and colour, I've also come to realize that I am picky about shape and surface quality. So I have champagne tastes on a beer budget. Life is so not fair!
cmd2014 - I'm pretty sure that this is not true. I remember reading that when selecting for gem grade pearls, either 0 or 1 blemish are considered to be the same, since the one blemish is the drill hole. :roll:

So, AAA will have one visible blemish after drilling.
 

icy_jade

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I think Fly Girl is right. Gem grades set clean. Very rare and very very expensive.
 

cmd2014

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icy_jade|1430869157|3872681 said:
I think Fly Girl is right. Gem grades set clean. Very rare and very very expensive.
Yeah, I can see that being true based on the grading descriptions. I wonder if that partly explains the price difference between what I see sold here in the high end store that carries quite a large selection of pearls and what can be purchased online. The high end store that I have here sells pearls that I can't see any blemishes on, even with close inspection. Might be partly why they are $$$. It's been interesting to contrast them with the AAA quality pearls I've purchased online. That said, I don't own any of the $$$ pearls other than a single pendant and a pair of earrings, as I can't afford them.
 
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