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Freshwater Pearls Grading Guide

freshwater pearl grading guide

Ready to learn all you can about grading the lovely Freshwater pearl? You’ve come to the best place. We’ll take a comprehensive yet easy look at how jewelers inspect these darling pearls. Trust us: you’ll feel like an expert soon!

Why Are Freshwater Pearls So Special?

If you’re looking for a variety of gorgeous color, Freshwater pearls are just for you. Further, Freshwater pearls are the only tissue-nucleated cultured pearl in the world! This means the pearls are entirely crystalline nacre, rendering these beauties super durable. And with that kind of pearl makeup, you’re virtually wearing a wild pearl. Because these Freshwater stunners naturally appear in pink, peach, lavender, and white, their colors usually aren’t the result of chemical dyes; your Freshwater pearls will never fade or discolor.

An Undeniable Beauty

There’s a common misconception with Freshwater pearls. They’re inexpensive compared to the saltwater varieties, so customers sometimes believe Freshwater pearls aren’t as magical. But they are magnificent! Don’t let their price tag fool you. In fact, our Freshwater Gem Grade pearls often rival the Akoya strands.

The nuclei are created using tiny slivers of donor mantle tissue. Those slivers are inserted into freshwater mussels, and the natural wonder begins. Unlike other pearls, that donor mantle tissue deteriorates, and the Freshwater pearl is comprised of two layers instead of three. Essentially, there’s no bead. When you wear Freshwater pearls, you’re wearing pure nacre and conchiolin (the pearl “glue”). The pearls are reasonably priced because the Freshwater harvest easily eclipses the harvests of all other cultured pearls. They’re less rare, sure, but no less lovely.


How do pearls line up against each other and qualify for certain grades? We’re here to answer that for you! There are 7 factors one must consider when assigning grades to strands of Freshwater pearls and otherwise: size, luster, shape, color, surface, nacre quality, and matching. Luster and shape are key elements.

Freshwater Pearls: Freshwater Gem Grade

These all-nacre pearls don’t have the bead nuclei to assist with the perfectly round shape. So, most Freshwater pearls fall in the baroque family. True round Freshwater pearls make up a very small percentage of the harvest annually. Indeed, about 0.03% per year are round-shaped. The ones that are true round earn the title “Freshwater Gem Grade.”

  • Matching: minimal variation in color, overtone, luster, true round shape, and size Appearance: clean 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
  • Freshwater Percentage: from the top 0.03% of annual pearls harvested

Freshwater Pearls: AAA

The Gem Grade is nearly flawless, and they can be mistaken for Akoya pearls. They’re that reflective and lustrous! With AAA, the pearls are going to pass the 1-foot test: from 1 foot away and beyond, they’ll all appear true round. Upon closer inspection, you’ll note that a few of the pearls are actually off-round.

  • Matching: a little variation in color, overtone, luster, off-round shape, and/or size
  • Appearance: clean 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 mostly crisp
  • Freshwater Percentage: from the top 1% of annual pearls harvested

Freshwater Pearls: AA+

With AA+, you’re still getting a good quality of luster. When under light, the pearls won’t interpret as crisp as the Gem Grade and AAA, and the blemish rate will fall between 5-10%. From a distance, the pearls will appear round, but upon closer inspection, you’ll note oval shapes. Some will be more egg-like than others.

  • Matching: medium variation in color, overtone, luster, off-round to oval shape, and size
  • Appearance: mostly clean to the eye
  • Blemish Rate: bears 5-10% on the pearl surface
  • Luster: distinct and boasting a fair reflection rate
  • Light Test: reflected light interprets as bright but blurred
  • Freshwater Percentage: from the top 5% of annual pearls harvested


When we hear the word “blemish,” we automatically think of something negative. But with pearls, you can’t think like that. If you’re wearing perfectly round and perfectly smooth pearls, then your strand is man-made. Those are synthetic “gems.” Not cool.

Blemishes represent Nature herself. We suggest getting to know your pearls. Those markings signal that your Freshwater pearls are one-of-a-kind. You’re wearing the real deal, the genuine treasure. Bring on the blemishes! Well, a few, that is. In reality, these blemishes aren’t noticeable from a distance. Even if a friend leans in close for a look, the blemishes will match the pearl’s natural color.

As you choose Freshwater pearls, shape and luster are the key components. And remember: the blemish rate counts for the entire strand of pearls, so even with AA+ grade, usually less than 10% of the jewelry piece bears blemishes at all. Further, most often, they “blend” with the pearls’ surfaces anyway.

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

1. Pits

These are similar to the pinpricks you’ll encounter on saltwater cultured pearls. Many are small circular indentations that are a bit larger than a pinprick. They’re colorless, though, so pits aren’t very noticeable.

2. Chalky Spots

Chalky spots are probably the most common blemish on Freshwater pearls. What you read is what you get: you’ll notice a chalky, muted area on the surface.

3. Scoring

If you’re a glass-half-full kind of individual, you’ll see these as unique pearl features instead of blemishes. The scoring is actually a pit with a light tail stretching across the surface. Some say it looks like a shooting star.

4. Ridges

Ridges only occur in Freshwater pearls. So, not only is it a natural blemish, it’s a blemish unique to the Freshwater variety. Since it’s an internal light line, it’s completely covered in nacre; the ridge appears in the same color as the pearl.

5. Speckles

This is a blemish that occurs in dyed pearls. Upon close inspection, you’ll notice tiny specks where the dye is concentrated. This does not affect the durability of the pearls or the colorful appearance.

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