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As with any other item that can appear in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and qualities, a standardized system of grading must be used when selling or buying pearls. Only in this way can the Akoya pearls be described according to mutually agreed-upon and understood terms, so that both buyer and seller can determine a fair price.
Unfortunately, the pearl industry as a whole has not adopted a universally used standard grading system. Instead, the specific grading system used often depends upon the specific jeweler. The AAA-A system is the major grading system used by nearly every major pearl retailer in the United States.
Even this system, however, can become misleading if a seller uses terms from the grading system (such as "AAA"), but uses them to describe a different quality pearl than that which the system is generally understood to be describing. Or a seller could use a term not in the grading system (such as "AAAA" or "AAA+") to make it appear that the pearl is beyond even the highest standard quality -- when in reality, that seller's "AAAA" pearls are actually equivalent to the more-common "AAA" grade, and his "AAA" pearls might only be equivalent to the commonly used "AA."
It's extremely important when purchasing a pearl necklace (or pearl earrings) to be absolutely certain of the meaning of any descriptive terms used by the seller. If possible, ask to see a written description of each grading term, so that you know exactly what the grade implies. Reputable jewelers will be happy to comply with such a request. Only in this way will you be able to determine if the price the seller is asking is reasonable.
The AAA - A System
This system grades pearls on a scale starting at A - Hanadama grade, with Hanadama grade pearls being the highest level of Akoya pearls available.
Hanadama: This is a special designation for pearls that have passed the Pearl Science Laboratory of Japan's rigorous tests and must be accompanied by the original certificate. Hanadama pearls are tested for a nacre thickness of at least 0.4mm on each side for a total of 0.8mm total nacre thickness. Hanadama pearls must also be nearly flawless with no visible inclusions and an extremely high luster.
AAA: The highest-quality pearl, virtually flawless. The surface will have a very high luster, and at least 95% of the surface will be free from any type of defect. The pearl will be perfectly round, and have a mirror-like luster, and a nacre thickness (Akoya pearls only) of 0.4mm or higher.
AA: The surface will have a very high luster, and at least 75% of the surface will be free from any type of defect. The luster will be very high, and have a thick nacre. AA is still a very nice quality, but not quite as nice as AAA or higher.
A: This is the lowest jewelry-grade pearl, with a lower luster and/or more than 25% of the surface showing defects. In many cases, if the pearl is being mounted into a piece of jewelry, it can be mounted so that the defects are hidden -- thus providing a lovely jewelry piece at a lesser price. This quality has a chalky appearance and thin nacre, typically of .25mm or less. This thin nacre is due to early harvesting of the pearl.
More Akoya Pearl Information:
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