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South Sea Pearls Grading Guide

south sea pearls grading guide

Need to begin or brush up on your South Sea pearl grading information? You’ll find what you’re looking for here. If you’re seeking experts in the field, or jewelers who examine and grade these wonders of the world regularly, you’ve met them in us. So, hello! We hope you’ll stay a while and learn all you can about these specific South Sea grading basics.

Why Are South Sea Pearls So Special?

It was once put like this: There are paintings, and then there’s the Sistine Chapel. There are pearls, and then there’s the South Sea pearl. And we like to think of it in that way. South Sea pearls possess the thickest nacre of all saltwater beauties, and they bear a soft, even warm elegance. We refer to them as the “satin sister,” and we’ll add that they’re the “big sister.” After all, their sheer size is a huge reason why we bow down to them.

Instead of appearing as a mirror, they glow, seeming to radiate light from within. Their natural white and gold hues are absolutely stunning. And don’t be fooled by their satiny label. They can, indeed, be quite lustrous and strikingly bright. They are exquisite, and any pearl collector or enthusiast understands their innate allure and worth.

An Undeniable, Supreme Beauty

Mother Nature really shows off as she develops these fine South Sea pearls. They’re born from oysters that work their magic with bead nuclei and slivers of donor mantle tissue. For two to three years, the oyster continues to secrete layer after layer of alternating nacre and conchiolin, which is similar to glue. In fact, the pearls’ consistent white and gold colors come from the pigments in the conchiolin, which may vary from gray to cream (forming a white pearl) and from orange to a chestnut brown (forming a golden pearl). Extremely golden South Sea pearls are rare and luxurious.


Obviously, there are desired characteristics to be factored in when placing South Sea pearls in particular classes. Let’s have a look at these two lovely grades, their similarities and differences. Essentially, there are 7 aspects to carefully note when it comes to grading pearls of any kind: size, luster, shape, color, surface, nacre quality, and matching.

South Sea Pearls: AAA

AAA South Sea pearls are our top grade, and that grade is certainly apparent when one captures even a glimpse. The gems may be a touch satiny, but they are somehow nonetheless reflective. They are the lustrous queens and convey an instant air of royalty. One immediately senses she is in the presence of Mother Nature’s finest.

  • Matching: almost perfect; minimal variation in color, overtone, luster, shape, and size
  • Appearance: mostly clean to the eye
  • Blemish Rate: bears less than 10% on each pearl surface
  • Luster: superb to extremely good
  • Light Test: reflected light interprets as precise with some blurring (signature satin)
  • The Fine Line: nacre thickness is 2.0-4.0mm

South Sea Pearls: AA+

AA+ South Sea pearls bring the satin element for sure. They softly glow as if small fires dwindle within. For an AA+ grade, South Sea pearls are permitted one to two blemishes on the sides or on the backs of pearl surfaces. With the AAA grade, a single blemish may appear only on the back side of the pearl, virtually hidden from the eye.

  • Matching: good; a little variation in color, overtone, luster, shape, and size
  • Appearance: a couple of blemishes granted on an 18-inch strand
  • Blemish Rate: bears less than 20% on each pearl surface
  • Luster: very good to fair
  • Light Test: reflected light interprets as blurred and satiny
  • The Fine Line: nacre thickness is 2.0-4.0mm


We can’t express how much the word “blemish” is cherished in the world of pearls. A blemish is our reminder that perfection is neither natural nor expected. In fact, blemishes are what make your pearls uniquely your own. Pearl lovers touch them and admire them, recognizing something both mysterious and near-holy. The sea brands them before sending them out into the open air.

One should note that South Sea cultured pearls, in particular, are part of an elite group. They’re one of only four organic gemstones on the entire planet, along with coral, amber, and jet. Even the best of the best boast blemishes, and those markings are exactly what render them “organic” and “true” beauties with appropriate birthmarks.

Here’s a detailed list of common blemishes and growths you’ll find on South Sea pearls:

1. Uneven Accumulation

We’ve decided that perfection is not the name of the pearl game. Ideally, we’d love to possess smooth pearls, but sometimes you’ll encounter a nacre build-up. This causes a slightly bumpy texture.

2. Mottling

This growth is also known as “bulleting,” and it occurs when there’s very thick nacre present. It appears as if a small hammer has dented the pearl. Most of the time, this growth can’t even be detected unless the pearl is closely inspected.

3. Circling

Circling is a natural growth marking on pearls and does not degrade the gems. It is composed of lines running around the entire pearl. Blemishes may occur within the rings themselves.

4. Pinpricks

The most common of all the South Sea pearl blemishes, pinpricks vary in size and may stand alone or in small clusters.

5. Pits

These blemishes appear as extreme pinpricks. They’re larger craters found in the nacre. As long as the pit is covered by nacre (with no exposed conchiolin), your pearls only bear a heavy blemish and do not stand a risk of chipping.

6. Grooves

For the South Sea pearl, this is another common blemish. This is a small carved-out area that can appear like a miniature comet. Once again, these should be shallow and totally covered in nacre to avoid any chipping over time.

7. Knobs

These appear on many baroque pearls, and they’re considered to be growths. Knobs are found on the ends of pearls and resemble tiny bubbles.

8. Tips

A tip is a growth and a very close cousin of the knob. Tips are simply more pointed instead of bubble-shaped. Both tips and knobs are natural and do not degrade pearls.