Do You Know a Pearl’s Value?

How is a pearl graded? In fact, unlike the well-known 4-C grading system for diamonds, there is no industry recognized universal grading system for pearls. Different companies or producers might have different grading systems. Among all the grading systems, AAA-A and A-D grading systems are used most often. AAA-A system (with AAA being the highest quality) is mostly used for grading Freshwater pearls and Akoya pearls; while A-D system (with A being the highest quality) is commonly used for grading Tahiti pearls and South Sea pearls, also known as the Tahitian system. These two grading systems are interchangeable. GIA also has its own grading system for pearls. No matter what grading system to be used, it is mainly five characteristics which decide a pearl’s value. In this blog, we will go through them one by one.

 

Luster

Usually, the more shinny and reflective the pearls are, the more expensive they are, given all other factors are the same. 

GIA thinks luster is the most important characteristic of pearls. GIA classifies the luster into four categories:

Excellent – Reflections are bright and pinpoint sharp

Good – Reflections are bright but not as sharp, slightly matte finish

Fair – Reflections are hazy and blurred

Poor – Reflections are diffused and appear chalky and dull

 Story of Pearls - Pearl quality guide: luster

 

 

Surface

The less imperfections or blemishes the pearls have, the more expensive they are, given all other factors are the same. GIA grades the pearls’ surface into four categories:

Clean – Virtually blemish free

Lightly blemished – Minor surface irregularities

Moderately blemished – Noticeable surface irregularities

Heavily blemished – Obvious surface irregularities

 Story of Pearls - Pearl quality guide: surface

 

 

Color

When talking about the colors of a pearl, most people would naturally relate to white. Indeed, white is the most classic pearl color. However, there are many other natural colors than white. Freshwater pearls have the widest color range: white, cream, champagne, pink, golden pink, lavender, purple. Tahiti pearls have a dark color range: green, blue, brown, purple and silver. (Read here to learn more about colors for different cultured pearls)

GIA classifies pearl colors into below three characteristics:

Body color – The dominant overall color of a pearl

Overtone – One of more translucent colors that appear over a pearl’s body color

Orient – Iridescent, rainbow colors shimmering on or just below a pearl’s surface

 Story of Pearls - Pearl quality guide: color

 

 

Size

Traditionally, the bigger the pearls are, the more expensive they are, given all other factors are the same. However, this also depends on individual taste. In recent years, in certain parts of Asia, small sized pearls have been cherished more among younger generations, making small pearls more and more valuable.

 Story of Pearls - Pearl quality guide: size

 

 

Shape

Genuine pearls are produced by oysters and are a type of living gemstones. Therefore, it is very rare that they are perfectly round shaped. Traditionally, the rounder the pearls are, the more expensive they are, given all other factors are the same. However, in recent years, baroque pearls, due to their uniqueness, have become more and more popular, especially in contemporary designers’ jewelries.

GIA classifies pearls into three categories:

Spherical pearls – Round or near round

Symmetrical – Pearls that look the same on each side if you divide them in half

Baroque pearls – Irregular shaped pearls, such as waterdrop shaped and stick shaped

 Story of Pearls - Pearl quality guide: shape

 

 

Pearls that are graded highly on all above characteristics are very rare and sold at very high prices. While some pearls might be outstanding on two or three characteristics, which makes them unique. Such pearls are also very valuable. For example, baroque pearls, due to their irregular shapes, might not be highly graded when it comes to “Shape”; whereas big sized baroque pearls with fantastic luster are pursued a lot by jewelry designers. Other characteristics such as the thickness and quality of the nacre is important for freshwater pearls; while for antic pearls, the fame of the previous owners could be invaluable! La Peregrina Pearl, one of the largest Baroque pearls in the world, was found 500 years ago and has been owned by different Kings and Queens, most recently by Elizabeth Taylor. La Peregrina Pearl is valued to over 3 million dollars.

Le Peregrina Pearl

Elizabeth Taylor wearing La Peregrina Pearl on the right of the picture 

You can read more about La Peregrina Pearl here

Reference:

GIA gemstone education

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