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Understanding Grades of Cultured Pearls

Written by the staff of Pearl Classic

When shopping for pearl jewelry, you may hear a lot of terminology you may not fully understand. You may read or your jeweler may use terms like nacre and luster to describe a set of pearl jewelry you are interested in. Most pearl jewelry stores will also use a scaling system to grade how much quality and value a pearl has. Someone outside of the pearl industry may find this all confusing when really it is easy to understand. The more you know about grades of cultured pearls, the easier it will be for you to select a piece of high quality pearl jewelry for a smart price.

As stated before, your jewelry store will use terms like nacre and luster to describe the quality of pearls. You will also hear terms like surface, shape and matching. All of these terms together affect which type of grade a pearl receives. Grades of cultured pearls range from A to AAA, with AAA being of the highest quality. Pearl jewelry that receives a grade of A will tend to run lower in price while AA and AAA will be a little more.

The first factor to play into which type of grade a pearl will receive is the shape, which tend to run from near round to semi-round and to near perfect. High quality pearls most often are nearly perfect sphere’s and may receive an AA or AAA grade. Pearls with an A grade will be slightly off from near perfect.

The surface of the pearl, which refers to how clear the pearl looks, can be described in two different ways. A blemished or marked pearl means that the pearls surface may have a dark spot here and there. A clean surface means there are no visible discolorations and the overall surface is clear. A pearl that may have a few discolorations may receive an A grade while A and AAA will be clearer.

The nacre or the mother-of-pearl portion refers to how durable the pearl can be. Essentially this is how many layers of nacre a pearl has. The more layers and the thicker it is, the higher quality the pearl will be and the more resistant it will be to nicks and scratches. AA to AAA will have thick nacre which means these pearls are of durable quality.

Luster of a pearl refers to how translucent each layer of nacre is. If a pearl can reflect light very well and is very shiny, then it most likely will receive an AA or AAA grade. Pearls that seem a little more on the matte side will receive an A grade.

The final factor in a pearl’s grade is the matching factor, which actually takes into account the previous four factors together. Matching is very important when creating and selecting pearl jewelry. Individual pearls that receive an A grade may seem unimpressive on there own, but when you group them together with similar pearls, you can really come out with a beautiful quality set of pearl jewelry, The same goes with AA or AAA grades. When matched with similar pearls, A grade pearl jewelry can seem just as beautiful as AA or AAA only with a smaller price tag.

So just because a set of pearl jewelry is given an A grade does not mean it is a bad set of pearl jewelry. Grade A pearl jewelry offers you the opportunity to get a great deal on quality pearls that can appear to be of the same quality and value as AA or AAA pearls. If though, you are looking for the best and most in pearl jewelry, you will want to focus on pearls with AA or AAA pearls. For now, however, when someone comes up to you and says these are AAA pearls and you notice that these pearls have quite a few blemishes and don’t seem to match with each other, you will be able to make a smart purchasing decision.