Pearl Grading

Pearl grading questioned.


Kenneth Scarrat, managing director of Southeast Asia and director of the Bangkok laboratory at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), says pearl grading faces serious challenges. “The previous chaotic situation with the diamond market prior to GIA certification in the early 1950s is tame in comparison with the present pearl market, so the challenge is even greater,” he says.

100 Pearls Being Counted at a Time Using Device at Factory


100 Pearls Being Counted at a Time Using Device at Factory

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Chrissie Douglas, owner of London retail jeweller Coleman Douglas Pearls, agrees. She says: “People need to appreciate what a challenge pearl grading is. Diamonds are cut by man, but pearls are a more natural product. How can you box nature?”

Worker Stringing Pearls She Has Graded at Factory


Worker Stringing Pearls She Has Graded at Factory

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At the same time, she says it is necessary for retailers and suppliers of the more expensive pearls to protect both retailers and consumers. “Imitation pearls and Hong Kong dealers misdescribing products has led to confusion in the market,” she says. “I think certification of expensive pearls - especially now the market is switching to natural pearls - is important as then the customer knows what they are getting.”

Black Pearls Displayed in a Pearl Oyster Shell, Takapoto Atoll, French Polynesia


Black Pearls Displayed in a Pearl Oyster Shell, Takapoto Atoll, French Polynesia

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The GIA has been identifying and classifying pearls since 1949, but issued its first official Pearl Grading Report in 2006, which provides guidelines for the industry. The report classifies pearls using its seven value factors: shape, size, colour, lustre, surface quality, nacre quality and matchin>. Despite this, many jewellers are reporting dealers trying to pass off sub-standard pearls and as well as consumers bringing pearls into stores, only to find they haven’t been sold what they were told.

Mikimoto Pearls, Ginza, Tokyo, Japan


Mikimoto Pearls, Ginza, Tokyo, Japan

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Scarrat says the GIA hopes to change this. “We believe the introduction of the GIA system in 2006 for describing a pearl’s various value factors has helped stabilize and enhance all aspects of the various elements of the pearl market,” he says.


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