Grading Systems

The AAA-A1 System

The art and science used to culture pearls was developed and much refined by Mikimoto Kokichi from the late nineteenth to early twentieth century . The Mikimoto Pearl Company’s grading system is the one most commonly – and most incorrectly – applied to cultured, saltwater (akoya) pearls. This grading system runs from AAA at the top and and A1 at the bottom and does not at all incorporate the use of the term “hanadama”.

AAA: Exceptional, mirror-like reflection; flawless, blemish-free surface.
AA: Superb, clear reflection; very slightly blemished surface
A+: Very good, clear reflection; very slightly blemished surface
A: Good, clear reflection; very slightly blemished surface
A1: Good, clear reflection; slightly blemished surface

The Mikimoto system does not incorporate the term “hanadama”, a term used by numerous, privately owned Japanese labs at which pearl appraisals are done for the industry. Pearls with as little as 5% to as much as 25% spotting and blemishes may be termed hanadama; indeed the only thing that the term hanadama establishes is that the strand in question is AA quality, at best.

The so-called “Triple A” grading system is, as previously stated, applicable only to akoya saltwater pearls. South Sea pearls, Tahitian pearls and freshwater pearls are simply never graded on that scale in the same way that coloured gemstones are not graded using the same grading terminology as are diamonds.

The A-D System (or Tahitian System)

A: The highest quality pearl with excellent lustre and less than 10% minor blemishing.
B: Medium to high lustre with less than 30% visible blemishing.
C: Medium lustre with less than 60% blemishing.
D: Lustre does not factor. Slight or, deep or, slight and deep blemishing over no more than 60% of the surface. The lowest acceptable grade for jewellery purposes.


Cultured freshwater pearls have long had a place in jewellery and fashion. It is only in the past two decades, however, that freshwater pearls have moved from the realm of inexpensive, almost costume jewellery into the world of high fashion and style. Freshwater pearls can now be found in large sizes, almost completely round. They are a great looking and far less expensive alternative to traditional saltwater strands.

Crown Pearl specializes not only in top quality, naturally coloured freshwater pearls, both round and off-round as well as “fancy” shapes (i.e. hearts; squares; discs etc.); but also in freshwater pearls that are more accessibly priced. Whether smaller, off-shape or dyed fancy colours, we have a range of unfinished and finished pearls and pearl jewellery to cover all of your price points.

As freshwater pearls are such a new market, there is not an established grading scale for them. To represent freshwater pearls as “AAA” or any other grade on the saltwater pearl grading scale, is simply incorrect. As there are no international standards, Crown Pearl offers pearls for sale with the following designations: “E” for Excellent; “VG” for Very Good; “G” for Good and “F” for Fair. It should be noted that each category covers something of a range of goods: as so-called hanadama pearls may range from 5-25% spotting, there are also degrees within each category.

These grades are based on Crown Pearl’s extensive experience in the pearl trade and the terminology is clear enough to provide even the least experienced pearl buyer with a simple, accurate guide to our goods.