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Pearl Luster 101

The topic of Pearl Luster can be a tricky one to describe to someone learning how to buy pearls. But it is an important topic to cover, and definitely something all pearl lovers should be familiar with. This article aims to quickly and easily explain this topic, and show you visual examples of each pearl type’s typical luster levels so you know exactly what we’re talking about.

The Table of Contents below can allow you to skip directly to the pearl type of your choice, or you can read the entire article.


What Is Luster?

What is Pearl Luster?

Luster is arguably THE MOST important aspect of a pearl’s value, beating out surface quality, symmetry of shape, size and color by a mile. If a pearl doesn't have nice luster, it just isn't going to be worth much. Luster is one of the famous “Value Factors” that jewelers, pearl specialists and appraisers use to grade pearls.

Pearl luster has three components:

  • Luster measures the rate of light reflecting off the surface of the pearl.
  • Luster measures the sharpness of reflection visible on its surface.
  • Luster also measures how well light beams break up through the nacre layers to refract back at the viewer, giving very fine quality pearls a subtle “glowing” aspect.

All four of the major pearl types require a rating of “High to Very High” luster in order to be graded “AAA Quality”. However, each pearl type plays with light in its own unique way and should be evaluated on a scale that takes that into account.

Akoya Pearl Luster

Akoya pearls are known around the world as having the highest quality luster of all pearl types. The luster is so sharp, shiny and reflective that Akoya pearls are often described as having “Mirror-sharp” or “Ball-bearing” luster.

Akoya pearl luster can be graded as Excellent, Very High to Excellent, Very High, High, Medium and Poor.

“AAA Quality” Akoya pearls MUST have either "Excellent" or "Very High to Excellent" luster in order to qualify for the grade.

"AA+ Quality”  Akoya pearls should have luster that grades "Very High" or "High to Very High" to qualify.


Pearl Luster: AAA Quality Akoya Pearl Luster

AAA Quality Akoya Luster

Akoya pearls with a “AAA Quality” grade will have luster graded as “Excellent” or “Very High to Excellent”.

What this means is that light sources reflecting off the surface of the pearl will be very sharp and crisp, with little to no hazing on the edges.

Your reflection in the surface of the pearl should be highly detailed, almost mirror-like.


AA+ Quality Akoya Luster

“AA+ Quality” Akoya pearl luster will be graded as “Very High to High” or “High”.

What that means is that light sources hitting the pearl’s surface will be somewhat sharp, with some slight hazing around the edges.

Your reflection will be visible in the pearl’s surface, but features like your eyes and nose won’t be as detailed … more like looking into a blurry steel mirror.  

Pearl Luster: AA+ Quality Akoya Pearl Luster


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Hanadama Pearl Luster

Hanadama Pearl Luster

Hanadama Akoya pearls will have the very highest graded luster of all Akoya pearls, which is “Excellent” … and then some! Hanadama pearls truly are the "Ferrari of the Pearl World" ...

For Hanadama Akoya, you can find the luster grade on the certification listed as “Teri-Value” which must be graded as “Very Strong”.


Learn More About Hanadama Akoya Pearls


View Our Most Popular Hanadama Pearl Necklaces


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Freshwater Pearl Luster

Freshwater pearls have long been thought to have the lowest luster of all pearl types, but that certainly doesn’t hold true today. That said, the luster of Freshwater pearls is generally softer and not as “crisp” as that of the Japanese Akoya. This is due to their solid crystal nacre make-up, which makes the pearls very durable. However, this composition slows down light beams reflecting back at the viewer making for a softer, more satin-like sheen overall.

Like Akoya pearls, Freshwater pearl luster can be graded as Excellent, Very High to Excellent, Very High, High, Medium and Poor.

“AAA Quality” Freshwater pearls must meet either "Very High to Excellent" or "Very High" luster in order to qualify for the grade.

"AA+ Quality”  Freshwater pearls should have luster that grades "Very High" or "High" to qualify.

Below we have have our most popular pearl grades and luster rates.


Pearl Luster: AA+ Quality Freshwater Pearl Luster

AA+ Quality Freshwater Luster

AA+ Quality Freshwater pearl luster will be visibly soft, silky and satin-like. Think “sheen” more than mirror-like shine.

Luster for these pearls is generally graded as High to Medium-High.

Light sources reflected on the surface of the pearls will have an easily visible haze around the edges.

You should be able to see your face’s outline, hair and some facial features but not in any great detail.


AAA Quality Freshwater Luster

AAA Quality Freshwater pearls will feature luster that is sharper, brighter and shinier, but still closer to a “AA+ Quality” Akoya pearl than a “AAA”.

Luster for AAA Quality Freshwater pearls is graded High to Very High.

Reflected light sources will feature some slight hazing around the edges, and you will be able to recognize yourself in the pearl’s surfaces.

Pearl Luster: AAA Quality Freshwater Pearl Luster

Pearl Luster: Gem Grade Freshwater Pearl Luster

Gem Grade Freshwater Luster

Gem Grade Freshwater pearls are famous for their fine quality luster and nearly perfectly round shape.

The luster can be graded as Very High to Excellent, with minimal hazing around the edges of reflected light sources.

You will be able to easily distinguish yourself in the pearl’s surfaces. Gem Grade pearls mimic the look of saltwater AAA Quality Akoya pearls, but at a fraction of the cost.


Watch Kevin Discuss Freshwater Pearl Grading


Metallic Freshwater Pearls

Metallic Freshwater pearls are one in 10,000 … literally.

These are Freshwater pearls with luster that is so incredibly sharp and reflective that it is the closest thing to getting fine Hanadama grade Akoya pearls (in terms of luster). With Metallic pearls, there will be no hazing around reflected light sources, and you will see a mirror-like reflection on the pearl’s surfaces. A single pearl necklace featuring metallic pearls is ultra-rare.

“Metallic” Freshwater pearls MUST have Excellent luster in order to qualify for the classification.

Pearl Luster: Metallic Quality Freshwater Pearl Luster

White Metallic Freshwater pearl pairs at right, from the annual Hong Kong Jewellery Show.

Metallic pearls are so rare that we can't keep them in regular inventory. We do our best to bring these stunning pearls to our customers as often as we can get our hands on them.


These naturally-colored Metallic Freshwater pearls are absolutely stunning. Rare and worth it!

Pearl Luster: Metallic Quality Freshwater Pearl Luster Colored Pearls

View Our Most Popular Freshwater Pearls


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Tahitian Pearl Luster

Tahitian pearls are cultured pearls spend quite a bit of time in the water acquiring their thick layers of nacre … typically 2 years is the minimum. So it comes as no surprise that Tahitian pearl luster is described as “satiny”. But that doesn’t mean that Tahitian pearl luster can’t be sharp, highly reflective and totally beautiful.

Like other pearl types, Tahitian pearl luster is graded as Excellent, Very High to Excellent, Very High, High, Medium and Poor.

“AAA Quality”Tahitian pearls can have either “Excellent” or “Very High to Excellent” luster.

“AA+ Quality” Tahitian pearls should have luster that grades “Very High to Excellent” or “High to Very High” to qualify.


Pearl Luster: AAA Quality Tahitian Pearl Luster

AAA Quality Tahitian Pearl Luster

AAA Quality Tahitian pearls have luster that is sharp, bright and highly reflective, but still doesn’t quite reach “ball-bearing” levels.

Luster for AAA Quality Tahitian pearls is graded Very High to Excellent or Excellent.

Reflected light sources can feature slight to almost no hazing around the edges, and you will be able to recognize yourself in the pearl’s surfaces.


AA+ Quality Tahitian Pearl Luster

AA+ Quality Tahitian pearl luster can be somewhat soft, with Very High to High luster rates.

Light sources reflected on the surface of the pearls will have an slightly to easily visible hazing around the edges.

You should be able to recognize your face peering back at you, but not all features will be easily distinguishable.

Pearl Luster: AA+ Quality Tahitian Pearl Luster

Browse Our Favorite Tahitian Pearls

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South Sea Pearl Luster

Like Tahitian pearls, White and Golden South Sea pearls are pearls that spend between 2-3 years in the water acquiring extremely thick nacre layers. These stunning pearls have luster that is also often described as “satiny” looking, but these stunners are not limited to soft luster levels at all. Quite the contrary, fine quality White and Golden South Sea pearls can have a deep, lustrous glow and silky shine that is unlike any other pearl type out there today.

South Sea pearl luster is graded as Excellent, Very High to Excellent, Very High, High, Medium and Poor.

“AAA Quality” South Sea pearls can have either “Excellent” or “Very High to Excellent” luster.

“AA+ Quality” South Sea pearls should have luster that grades “Very High to Excellent” or “High to Very High” to qualify.


Pearl Luster: AAA Quality South Sea Pearl Luster

AAA Quality South Sea Pearl Luster

AAA Quality South Sea pearls have luster that is sharp, bright and highly reflective, but still doesn’t quite reach “mirror-like” Akoya pearl levels.  

AAA Quality South Sea pearl luster is graded Very High to Excellent or (best case scenario) Excellent.

Reflected light sources can feature some slight hazing to almost no hazing around the edges, and you will be able to recognize yourself in the pearl’s surfaces.


AA+ Quality South Sea Pearl Luster

AA+ Quality South Sea pearl luster can be graded with Very High to High luster rates.

Light sources reflected on the surface of the pearls will have a slightly to easily visible hazing around the edges.

You should be able to recognize your face looking back at you, but not all features will be easily distinguishable.

Pearl Luster: AA+ Quality South Sea Pearl Luster

The Perfect Strand of South Sea Pearls

Fine White & Golden South Sea Pearls

Luxurious South Sea Pearls Without The 10x Markup?...

...Is it possible?


Known for their larger size and silky luster, South Sea Pearls are stunning and rare. With prices starting under $400, we make them an affordable and luxurious treat. You'll love the satin luster and creamy color of our South Sea Pearls and feel classy and sophisticated while wearing our magnificent South Sea Pearl Necklaces.  


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