Pearl Guide

A favorite jewel of the ages, from ancient royalty to modern-day baseball players, pearls exhibit color, shape and shine that set them apart in the world of gemstones. Their soft luster and silky feel evoke comfort and elegance, and today these gemstones maintain popularity in necklaces, rings, bracelets, earrings and more.

Grading & Appraising Pearls

Pearl specialists use 7 value factors to grade and appraise pearls to determine a pearl’s overall value. The A-AAA Grading System uses all 7 value factors to evaluate pearls and categorize each strand or pair of earrings. Due to a lack of universal grading standards for pearls, its important for consumers to purchase from reputable and trustworthy pearl suppliers that uphold the highest standards for pearl quality.

Pearl Nacre Quality and Thickness

Nacre, pearl layer, is the inner iridescent layer of molluscan shells, which is composed of alternating layers of aragonite platelet and organic materials film. Since nacre determines luster, nacre quality is a critical factor when determining a pearl's value. Generally speaking, the thicker the nacre, the more valuable the pearl. Thick nacre not only looks better than thin, it also is much more durable. Pearl types such as Tahitians and South Sea pearls have extremely thick nacre, often averaging between 2-4mm thick around the bead nucleus inside.

Pearl Luster

Luster is the glow that comes from within the pearl, which is produced by light entering the pearl and reflecting back at the viewer through the layers of nacre. The quality of the pearl's luster is directly related to how even and smooth the layers of nacre are. Generally, pearl lovers look for crisp and highly reflective luster that displays sharp, easily distinguished lines from reflected light sources.

Pearl Surface Quality

Surface quality measures how clean, smooth and free from blemishes a pearl appears. Most all pearl buyers will notice a degree of surface imperfections. The key factors to surface quality imperfections are how noticeable they are and if they seriously affect the durability of the pearl. Inclusions can be: abrasions, spots, bumps or wrinkles.

Pearl Size

Cultured pearls can range in size from tiny 1.0mm seed pearls up to 21.0mm and rarely, even larger. Like diamonds, size can contribute to exponentially increasing prices with each millimeter size up. This is because larger pearls are much harder to cultivate, take much longer to produce and thus are much rarer.

Pearl Shape

Perfectly round pearls are the “gold standard” when it comes to cultured pearl jewelry. These are the most conventional of all pearl shapes, and what almost every pearl shopper thinks of when they think of a classic pearl necklace. The most important consideration is that the pearl features evenly symmetrical shapes, which are most pleasing to the eye and more easily used in most pearl jewelry styles.

Pearl Color & Overtone

This Value Factor looks at the strength of the pearl’s body colors and overtones. The more easily visible and saturated, the better. Certain overtones are rarer and thus more valuable than others, and will increase the pearl’s price.

Pearl Matching

Matching measures how beautifully pearl necklaces, earrings, bracelets and sets are matched. Pearl matching should take into account: size, shape, surface quality, luster, body color and overtone. Multi-colored strands should be matched according to all these factors, but body color and overtones can be mixed. As long as the strand has a pretty overall tone and aesthetic, the mixed colors do not count negatively against the pearl’s overall grade.

Types of Pearls

Freshwater Pearls at Lee Michaels Fine Jewelry stores
Freshwater Pearls at Lee Michaels Fine Jewelry stores
Freshwater Pearls

Freshwater pearls are typically found in lakes and rivers in China. In recent years, the quality of Freshwater pearls has drastically improved and has resulted in beautiful pearls that are cleaner, rounder, and more lustrous. Due to their mass production, freshwater pearls are also popular for their affordable price points. Freshwater pearl sizes typically range from 5mm to 10mm, though they are often available in larger sizes up to 13mm.

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AA

AAA

Low Quality Freshwater representing the bottom 60% of pearl harvest.

Medium-Grade Freshwater representing top 20% of harvest

High-Grade Freshwater representing the top 10% of a pearl harvest. Available in Finer Jewelry Stores.

Heavy blemishing with only a 50% or less clean surface.

Minor to medium blemishing with a 70-80% clean surface.

Minor blemishing with at least 90% of the pearl surface clean.

Poor Luster

Medium Luster

High Luster

Off Round Shape

Off Round Shape

Near Round to Round Shape

akoya pearls at Lee Michaels Fine Jewelry stores
akoya pearls at Lee Michaels Fine Jewelry stores
Akoya Pearls

Since the 1930's, Akoya pearls are the world's best-known pearl. Akoya pearls are often very round and spherical in shape and are complemented by very high luster. Produced by a small oyster called the Pinctada Fucata off the seas of Japan and China, they are commonly found in sizes ranging from 2mm to 10mm in size. Akoya pearls are a long-time favorite in the pearl industry and are commonly worn by brides on their wedding day.

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AA

AA+

Low Quality Japanese Akoya representing the bottom 50% of pearl harvest.

Medium-Grade Japanese Akoya representing top 60% of Harvest.

High-Grade Japanese Akoya representing the top 5-10% of a pearl harvest.

Heavy blemishing with only a 50% or less clean surface.

Minor to medium blemishing with a 70-80% clean surface.

Minor blemishing with at least 90% of the pearl surface clean.

Poor Luster

Medium Luster

High Luster

Thin Nacre

Medium Nacre

Thich Nacre

Round/Off Round Shape

Round Shape

Perfectly Round Shape

Tahitian South Sea Pearls at Lee Michaels Fine Jewelry
Tahitian South Sea Pearls at Lee Michaels Fine Jewelry
Tahitian South Sea Pearls

Tahitian pearls, also known as black South Sea pearls or simply black pearls, are cherished for their incredibly exotic colors and mirror-like luster. Whereas other pearl types are typically limited in color, Tahitian pearls consist of hundreds of overtones with incredibly exotic colors such as peacock green, silver green, blue, and eggplant, just to name a few. These pearls are produced by the Pinctada Margaritifera oyster, which is found exclusively in Tahiti and several other French Polynesian islands.

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AA

AAA

Low Quality Tahitian representing the bottom 50% of pearl harvest

Medium-Grade Tahitian representing top 60% of Harvest.

High-Grade Tahitian representing the top 5-10% of a pearl harvest.

Pearls having flaws on at least 60% of the pearl surface, with 20% containing deep imperfections.

Flawless pearl on 40% of its surface, with the remaining 50% having minor imperfections and 10% containing deep flaws.

Flawless pearl on at least 80-85% of its surface, with remaining 15-20% containing only minor imperfections with one or two deep imperfections.

Poor Luster

Medium Luster

High Luster

"D" Quality

"C" Quality

"A/B" Quality

White & Golden South Sea Pearls at Lee Michaels Fine Jewelry
White & Golden South Sea Pearls at Lee Michaels Fine Jewelry
White & Golden South Sea Pearls

White & Golden South Sea pearls are cherished for their classic color as well as their exceptional sizes. These rare gems are produced by the Pinctada Maxima oyster, found in very deep and offshore waters. White South Sea pearls are commonly found off the shores of Australia and are typically creamy white in color with a silver overtone. High quality golden South Sea pearls are usually found in the Philippines and include a wide variation of shades of light to dark golden colors.

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AA

AAA

Low Quality South Sea representing the bottom 50% of pearl harvest

Medium-Grade South Sea representing top 60% of Harvest.

High-Grade South Sea representing the top 5-10% of a pearl harvest.

Pearls having flaws on at least 60% of the pearl surface, with 20% containing deep imperfections.

Flawless pearl on 40% of its surface, with the remaining 50% having minor imperfections and 10% containg deep flaws.

Flawless pearl on at least 80-85% of its surface, with remaining 15-20% containing only minor imperfections with one or two deep imperfections.

Poor Luster

Medium Luster

High Luster

"D" Quality

"C" Quality

"A/B" Quality

Lee Michaels has the best value and selection of Pearls in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and New Mexico.

SHOP Mikimoto pearls at Lee Michaels Fine Jewelry

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Frequently asked questions about Pearls, their history, their value and more.

Pearl FAQs

Available In Stores & Online

Browse a larger assortment of pearls and meet our specially trained associates to learn more and select the perfect pearlfor your collection. Visit any Lee Michaels Fine Jewelry Store, located in Baton Rouge and Lafayette, Louisiana, San Antonio, Texas, Albuquerque, New Mexico and Jackson, Mississippi.