Checking the pearl grades can assist you to identify the value and quality of a pearl even if you’re not a pearl expert. However, there is no single universal grading system. The pearl manufacturers use different pearl grading standards so that you can find various grading marks like AAAA+,AAA,AAW1, etc.

However, you don’t need to be confused. In this article, we’ll discuss several most common pearl grading systems and how to use them to help you buy pearls for your jewelry business or personal use.

1. Main Classifications of Pearls

Different types of pearls are usually graded based on their certain grading systems. So before understanding these different systems, you should know some pearl types first.

The first classification is a natural or cultured pearl. Natural pearls are rare and formed spontaneously without human interference. Contrastingly, cultured pearls are formed by the induction of an irritant in the oyster. Although cultured artificially, the shape of the pearl couldn’t be influenced by external factors.  Generally, most pearls on the market are cultured pearls.

While the second classification is freshwater or saltwater pearls, saltwater pearls grow in pearl oysters that live in seas and oceans. Freshwater pearls grow inside freshwater mussels living in ponds, lakes, and other freshwater bodies. Almost all the Freshwater and Saltwater pearls are cultured pearls.


Saltwater Pearls

Growing inside saltwater oysters, saltwater pearls can further have several types. South Sea Pearls, Akoya Pearls, and Tahitian Pearls are all Saltwater pearls. The South Sea Pearls can be white and golden and can range from 9-16 mm. These grow in the oceans of the Philippines, Australia, and Indonesia.

The Akoya Pearls can be 3-10 mm in size and come from Japan. They are sometimes called Japanese Akoya Pearls. On the other hand, Tahitian Pearls can be 8-18 mm in diameter and grow in saltwater oceans of French Polynesia and Panama.

Freshwater pearls

The freshwater pearls are usually 5-10 mm but can be as big as 13 mm. They grow in slow-moving rivers and lakes. Most of them come from China, and some used to come from Lake Biwa in Japan called Biwa pearls.

You can check the chart below to find their differences,


Saltwater Pearls

Freshwater Pearls

Places of Origin

Japan, China, Australia, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, etc.

95% China


Perfectly round

Round or near round or oval

Pearl nucleus







White, gold, black, grey

White, orange, pink,purple

Culture cycle




A bit obvious texture




Lower than saltwater

2. How are Pearls Graded? (7 Factors)

Although there is no single universal grading system among different pearl manufacturers and suppliers, different types of pearls can be all graded based on the following features generally. Jewelers and pearl experts use these seven factors to grade and value the pearl, including:

  • Size
  • Shape
  • Color
  • Luster
  • Surface quality
  • Nacre
  • Matching


different pearl sizes

Considering all other factors constant, the bigger the pearl is, the more valuable it will be. Regardless of the type, this criterion fits all the pearls. Moreover, the size is determined by the time the pearl remains inside the oyster.

An average size pearl usually has 8-10 mm of diameter. Pearls bigger than 10 mm are of high value, and the price goes up exponentially. Big pearls up to 20 mm diameter can take many years to develop and therefore can be high-grade.


Even after culturing, pearl farmers couldn’t impact the shape of the pearls. Therefore, the shape is a crucial criterion for grading the pearl value. Perfect round shapes are rarely achieved and value a lot. Moreover, the round shape integrates easily into any jewelry and is therefore considered supreme.

Jewelers also put good money on all such shapes that can capture attention. It is the reason that baroque pearls are often sold higher than their original prices.


Classically white, but pearls can almost have any color. Pearl colors have three components. The first one is the body color. Every pearl has a body color; they can range from white and golden South Sea pearls to green and dark Akoya pearls.

Overtones are the second component of pearl colors. These add subtlety to the color and make a pearl more valuable. Familiar overtones include rose and silver, while green and salmon are rare ones.

The third color component is the hidden gleam of the pearl that changes with the angle. Such a Flickr is rare and can make a pearl very valuable. Personal likings and fashion trends also impact color preferences and ultimately decide the value. Nowadays, dark-colored pearls with subtle overtones are considered more valuable.


Luster is the first thing you notice in the pearl and, therefore, one of the most important factors when valuing the pearls. A dense and even deposition of nacre results in uniform light reflection that gives luster to the pearl. Peals with low luster can have impurity in them.

When measuring the luster, jewelers look for the degree, sharpness, and symmetry of reflections, and you can also consider the same. A pearl will be of very high value if it satisfies these three conditions of luster.

Surface Quality


The presence of any ridges, wrinkles, or scratches can depreciate the pearl. These blemishes could be either due to irritations inside the oyster or due to any external damage. You should pay special attention to surface quality as it can seriously affect the durability of the pearl.

Regardless of the grading system, a high-grade pearl will have more than 95% clean surface with no visible imperfections. You should also consider surface quality factors in baroque pearls. Although they don’t have a round or perfect shape, a valuable Baroque pearl has a smooth surface without abrasions or blemishes.


Unlike many other factors, you can’t visibly see the nacre. But it can also significantly influence the pearl value because nacre thickness and distribution are crucial for pearl’s luster.

Irregularity in the mother of pearl can impact surface quality, forming wrinkles. Moreover, pearls with a thick nacre last a lifetime due to exceptional durability. Saltwater pearls are affected mainly by the nacre quality as most of them are cultured.


Pic source: Doipearl


Pearl matching accounts for how well pearls are matched in the jewelry or with other materials like stainless steel, silver, etc.

Pearls on earrings should generally be identical to each other, both in size and color. In contrast, pearls on necklaces have a gradual change in size, and multicolored formation is widespread. 

3. Four Universal Pearls Grading System

In fact, there is no standard grading system, and each seller grades its pearl differently. It is even possible that the AAA grade for one seller might be an A grade for the other. Some sellers even use the term AAAA or AAA+ to make the buyer believe the exceptional nature of the pearl.

Therefore as a buyer, you should arm yourself with enough knowledge to know widely used grading systems. Here are four famous universal pearl grading systems.

Below is the pearl grading chart for your to have a quick look:


Grade Scale

Grading Factors

GIA Grading System


Size, Shape, Color, Luster, Surface quality, Nacre, Matching

Akoya Pearl Grading System

A, AA, AA+, AAA, Hanauma

Shape, Color, Luster, Blemish, Matching

Freshwater and Tahitian Pearl Grading system


Size, Shape, Color, Luster

Chinese Pearl Grading System


Size, Luster, Shape

GIA Grading System

GIA uses the seven value factors mentioned above to grade all pearl types. The pearls in this system are classified as.

A Quality: These Pearls can have a poor luster with a fading appearance. The shape is not ideally round and has less than 60% clean surface. Nacre is thin, and you can observe color patches and are usually small.

AA Quality: Medium Quality pearls and can have a slight luster. The shape can vary from off-round to round but is not perfect and can have up to 80% clean surface. Nacre becomes thick and evenly distributed colors.

AAA Quality: These are the finest quality pearls. Pearls of this Quality usually are perfectly round, have symmetry in their colors and varying overtones. The surface is 95-99% clean and has the most refined luster. Nacre is evenly distributed and is very thick. These are the pearls you will see in any high-end jewelry store.

GIA pearl grading system
GIA pearl grading report sample
click to enlarge

Akoya Pearl Grading System

In Akoya Pearl Grading System, pearls are graded according to five factors including shape, color, luster, blemish, and matching. It is also called the Japanese Grading system because of the origin of Akoya pearls from Japan.

A: Low-Quality pearls and extremely poor luster.

AA: Luster becomes better in this quality, but most of the pearls still have a chalky appearance. The surface can have abrasions and scratches with a thin nacre.

AA+: This is the most common quality variant of Akoya pearls. The surface is more than 85% clean, and the shape is also around. Luster is good with the symmetrical color distribution. These pearls have no apparent defects.

AAA: These pearls are close to perfection. From having excellent luster to color overtones, these have all. The shape is also perfect, with a 98-99% clean surface. Nacre is visibly thick and has exceptional matching.

Hanauma: Handama is a Japanese flower and depicts the top 0.1% of the pearls. Each pearl is numbered with a certificate of authenticity from Pearl Science Laboratory of Tokyo, Japan. They have all the perfect features you can see in a pearl and can last for decades.

Freshwater and Tahitian Pearl Grading system

Both these Grading systems are similar but have different names to their respective pearls. Unlike other systems, these grading systems used both AAA-A and A-D scales. Some Jewelers also grade South Sea pearls with this system.

Commercial Quality/D Quality: Low-grade pearls you see in departmental stores.

A/ C Quantity: 50% blemish-free surface, thin nacre, mild luster, and near round shape.

AA/ B Quality: 80% blemish-free surface, evenly distributed colors, good luster, round shape, and thick nacre.

AAA/ A Quality: 95% blemish-free surface with minor to no abrasions on the rest of the surface. Very thick nacre and can have multiple overtones. Luster is impressive with clear reflections and has excellent matching.

Chinese Pearl Grading System

To reduce the subjectivity of pearl evaluation during trade, many merchants in China use the 3A evaluation scheme, that is, according to the size, they are first divided pearls into three levels: A, B, and C, and then according to the luster into three levels: A, B and C.

In short, AAA pearl refers to pearls of the best quality, that is, with large particles, good shape, and strong luster; CCC pearls are those with small size, poor shape, and mild luster.

However, this system is intuitive and simple but is too rough so that it cannot provide specific guidance for the quotation based on the classification standard.


Understanding these different pearls grading systems help you identify the pearl values and quality. If you have questions, please leave a message below. If you think the information that I provide you is helpful, share the article with your friends or on Twitter, Facebook, Quora, Reddit, etc.

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