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Akoya Pearls Grading Guide

akoya pearl grading guide

If you’re looking to learn all you can about the classic Akoya pearl and its grades, you’ve certainly come to the right place. Keep reading for an in-depth yet simple breakdown at how jewelers examine these extraordinary pearls. You’ll feel more like a pro in no time!

Why Are Akoya Pearls So Special?

Akoya pearls are the perfect picture of Mother Nature and humanity working together. That’s right! When you’re looking at those luminous, near-otherworldly orbs, you’re gazing into a unique collaboration. Indeed, mother of pearl shell bead nuclei and slivers of donor tissue from top-producing oysters are placed within a “host.” Those host oysters then begin their magic. They release nacre secretions that yield gorgeous pearls.

An Undeniable Beauty

Before you can purchase a one-of-a-kind strand or be charmed by all that mirror-like sheen, nature has to run its course. Essentially, a pearl boils down to three layers. From the outermost to innermost, there’s the alternating lustrous nacre (calcium carbonate) conchiolin (biological glue) layers, and then there’s the bead nucleus. The more tightly-packed the nacre layer components are, the more wildly the pearl shimmers and glows.

AKOYA PEARL GRADES

How do pearls line up against each other and qualify for certain grades? You’ve got the right questions, and you’ll find your answers here. First things first: There are actually 7 factors to consider when assigning grades to strands of pearls: size, luster, shape, color, surface, nacre quality, and matching.

Akoya Pearls: Hanadama

The Japanese title “Hanadama” actually translates as “spherical flower,” so these highest-quality, strong Akoya pearls may be referred to as the “flower pearls.” Jewelers grade single strands of these precious gemstones using the following rubric:

  • Matching: minimal variation in color, overtone, luster, shape, and size
  • Appearance: clean and nearly flawless to the eye
  • Blemish Rate: bears 5% or less on the pearl surface
  • Luster: distinct and boasting a high reflection rate
  • Light Test: reflected light interprets as precise and crisp
  • Mirror Test: facial features may be easily observed and well-defined in every pearl’s surface
  • The Fine Line: actual nacre thickness is 0.4mm or more

Akoya Pearls: AAA

This grade of Akoya pearls is certainly a fitting gift for your pearl aficionado! The main difference between Hanadama grade and AAA is, of course, luster, but also that Hanadama pearls’ certification is based on a singular strand (most often 18 inches in length). If that strand breaks or is lengthened at any point, the “Hanadama” grade is nullified. On the other hand, you can find AAA in multi-strand varieties in a wide range of lengths. The AAA Akoya pearls allow for unique, artisan jewelry pieces.

  • Matching: minimal variation in color, overtone, luster, shape, and size
  • Appearance: clean and nearly flawless to the eye
  • Blemish Rate: bears 5% or less on the pearl surface
  • Luster: distinct and boasting a high reflection rate
  • Light Test: reflected light interprets as precise and crisp
  • Mirror Test: facial features may be easily observed and defined in every pearl’s surface
  • The Fine Line: visible nacre thickness is 0.4mm or more

Akoya Pearls: AA+

It all comes down to luster grade really. That’s the main difference. To be honest, if you don’t have a trained eye looking at your pearls, it’s difficult to note this difference. AA+ are beauties for sure, and they come at a great value. You will recognize a greater “depth” in AAA grades, though. You’ll notice that in the mirror test, you’re encountering a sharper facial image.

  • Matching: minimal variation in color, overtone, luster, shape, and size
  • Appearance: clean and nearly flawless to the eye
  • Blemish Rate: bears 5% or less on the pearl surface
  • Luster: distinct and boasting a high reflection rate
  • Light Test: reflected light interprets as precise and crisp
  • Mirror Test: facial features may be easily observed in every pearl’s surface
  • The Fine Line: visible nacre thickness is 0.4mm or more

AKOYA PEARL BLEMISHES

Ironically, blemishes are actually good things when it comes to Akoya pearls. It’s how you know they’re real. Nature essentially puts her stamp on every authentic, cultured pearl—her signature, if you will. You know you’ve encountered a man-made pearl if they’re all perfectly round, entirely smooth, and all identical.

These so-called “blemishes” are what make the pearls yours. No one else on the planet will have a strand of pearls, set of earrings, or a bracelet or pendant like yours. Your pearls have character and pizazz all their own.

It’s important and comforting to note that nearly all Akoya pearl blemishes are minute and actually cover less than 10% of the pearls’ surfaces. And at Pearl Distributors, we only sell those with a 5% or less blemish rating. You should also note it’s very rare that these tiny markings affect lifetime durability.

Here’s a detailed list of common blemishes you’ll find on Akoya pearls:

1. Uneven Accumulation

Nature seems less concerned with our idea of perfection. She likes delivering unique treasures. Don’t be surprised if, upon inspection, you find evidence of this natural process. The crystalline nacre can build-up in a certain area.

2. Mottling

If discovered in an abundance, this type of blemish can spoil the surface of an Akoya pearl. But normally, these very faint mottling growths don’t impact the beauty at all. The pearls’ durability isn’t affected by it either.

3. Spots

These are maybe the most common of all Akoya pearl blemishes and, therefore, do not normally count against the pearls in grading. You might see light, scaly spots, which are indicators of a slight disturbance in pearl formation. In addition, you could encounter flat spots, which give the impression of thick nacre lightly tapped by a small hammer.

4. Pinpricks

Pinpricks (tiny indentations) may appear singularly or in clusters. These certainly don’t negate beauty or durability. Single ones are nearly-microscopic, appearing only upon extremely close inspection. The same goes for small clusters. However, if clusters of pinpricks appear too frequently, the markings may look like teeth prints, giving the pearl a displeasing “gnawed” effect.

5. Blinking

This blemish occurs when nacre that has enveloped the shell bead is too thin. You may actually only see the pearl “blinking” at you from about half-a-foot (or less), and you’d have to be under an extremely bright light. Essentially, you’ll see a faint orange flash as you rotate the pearl.

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