Introduction to South Sea Pearl Grading

The largest of all saltwater pearls, the "Queen of Pearls", cultured South Sea Pearls (or SSP, for short) have an amazing and luxurious appeal due to their silky-glow, their incredibly thick nacre coating and enormous sizes. This places these luminous orbs as the highest valued pearls.

White South Sea Pearls are mainly grown in the clean waters of Australia, Indonesia and Myanmar.

Giant Baroque South Sea Pearl from Australia

An immense baroque white South Sea Pearl. .

And let us not forget golden South Sea Pearls: these are also amongst the rarest and most beautiful, cultured pearls in the world, and seen as a symbol of wealth and luxury, with their gorgeous array of natural golden shades capturing the imagination of many pearl lovers. The golden-lipped pearl oysters are found mostly in the seas of the Philippines.

Both South Sea Pearl types are grown using the same large species of pearl oyster, the Pinctada maxima, but this species is divided by a “biogeographic barrier” that has allowed it to present two different populations with different colored shells: the white and the golden shells.

Both varieties of South Sea Pearls are the same then: their shapes, sizes, luster, nacre thickness and surface quality are almost identical, but they mostly differ in coloration, one group to be referred to as “White South Sea Pearls” and the other one as “Golden South Sea Pearls”.

Golden South Sea pearls from the Philippines.

As we have discussed in previous chapters: when judging pearls for their shape, color, or luster, always first consider the kind of pearl you are analyzing.

For this section we will continue to use the Gemological Institute of America’s (GIA) Seven Value factors, which are:

  1. Size
  2. Shape
  3. Color
  4. Luster
  5. Surface Quality
  6. Nacre Quality
  7. Matching (when referring to sets, earrings or necklaces)

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