Freshwater Pearl Grading
The world of Freshwater pearls is the fastest evolving of all cultured pearl types. New shapes, colours, sizes and textures are being introduced at breakneck speeds, with new varieties making debuts yearly at the international pearl shows. This short guide to A-AAA Freshwater Pearl Grading is dealing primarily with the classic near round to round white Freshwater pearl, which is the most popular of all Freshwater pearl varieties available today.
Please note, we do not subscribe to superfluous grades such as AAA+ and AAAA. These are not industry-accepted grades.
Guide to Grading Freshwater Pearls
Freshwater pearls are unique in that they are the ONLY tissue-nucleated cultured pearl in the world:
- It creates a pearl composed of solid crystalline nacre, the closest you can get to the way a natural pearl is formed in the wild.
- It creates an incredibly durable pearl that will withstand the tests of time and wear.
- Rather than a glossy shine, a Freshwater pearl possesses an elegant glow that slowly reveals itself under the steady gaze of the wearer; silky, touchable and radiant. Fine AAA Quality Freshwater pearls can look just as beautiful as any saltwater pearl.
- Their natural shades of peach/pink, lavender/purple and white are untreated by any chemical or dye process, and will never discolour or fade if cared for properly. New, intense colours and metallic overtones are becoming available, making cultured Freshwater pearls one of the most colourful pearl types on the market today!
Shape is Key
Solid-nacre pearls have no mother of pearl bead nucleus to give the mussel a perfectly round ‘template’ to form nacre over, so the majority of Freshwater pearl harvests contain semi-baroque and baroque pearls.
True round-shaped Freshwater pearls, while a major goal of pearl farmers everywhere, remain a small percentage of each yearly harvest – less than 3% - and are a MAJOR factor in determining a pearl’s overall quality grade.
AA+ vs AAA Quality Pearls
The primary difference between the AA+ Quality and AAA Quality Freshwater pearl is one of SHAPE. It’s the most visible and easily quantified value attribute between the two qualities; the next two differences will be that of Lustre and Surface Quality.
AAA Quality pearls have sharper, brighter lustre and less blemishing (between 1-5% of the pearl surface). They can feature some type of inclusion (usually chalky spots or thin ridges where organic material has accumulated), however most importantly, the shape will be round to the eye from a distance of 30-cm approximately, and up close inspection (less than 15-cm) will reveal a nearly true-round pearl shape.
AA+ Quality pearls will have lustre that is nearly comparable to AAA, just not quite as crisp. The blemish rate will be between 5-10%; the shape will be mostly eye-round from a distance of 30-cm, and upon close inspection (less than 15-cm), you’ll begin to notice a slightly off-round shape.
Common Freshwater Pearl Blemishes
Chalky spots are easily the most common of freshwater pearl inclusions. They’re exactly what they sound like: dull, chalky-looking areas on the pearl surface.
Pits or pitting blemishes are similar to pin-prick inclusions spotted on saltwater cultured pearls. They are circular indentations on the pearl’s surface. The majority of them are small-sized and won’t be too noticeable, but are generally larger than a single pin-prick. Thankfully, these inclusions are colourless and only noticeable upon very up-close inspection.
Ridges are an inclusion that is unique to Freshwater pearls, quite likely due to their solid-nacre composition. Ridges are totally covered in nacre, so they’ll be whatever colour the pearl is.
Score marks or scoring begins with a small pin prick or pit, and then appears to be drawn off lightly over the surface of the pearl … they can look like small comets or shooting stars for those of us with a romantic viewpoint.
For dyed pearls such as our Black Freshwater pearls, up close inspection of the surfaces will often reveal a slight graininess or tiny dark speckles where the dye has concentrated. This is a natural part of the colour-treatment process, and does not affect the durability or overall loveliness of the pearls.
In Conclusion ...
You can think of pearl inclusions as a built-in certificate of authenticity – they’re a natural left over of the creation process. You’ll never see inclusions like this, or the subtle variations that make a pearl a true one of a kind, with man-made synthetic beads!
The majority of Freshwater pearls’ inclusions will match the pearl’s natural colour and/or are colourless, blending with the pearl surface making them nearly invisible to the casual observer.
When choosing fine Freshwater pearls, the biggest, most important considerations to keep in mind are consistently of shape, and a fine, bright lustre!