Grading standards do not exist for gemstone beads. Everybody just makes them up. One company's A grade is another's AAA.
When I first created this site, I did not grade my beads. I've since decided to make up my own grading system, and I am in the process of going through all my inventory and assigning grades. If there's no grade listed, the beads are probably grade A.
When it comes to gemstone beads, you truly do get what you pay for. You can pick up a really cheap strand of Chinese rose quartz with a few bad beads on the strand for pocket change, but spend the equivalent of a dinner out for two on a strand of Madagascar rose quartz.
Most strands will have a bad bead or three. Common issues are chipped drill holes, beads drilled off-center, or beads broken in handling. I provide the following information when listing my gemstone beads.
My grades are B, A, AA, AAA, AAAA, AAAAA, and Top.
I order only grade A or above but, like you, I often don't get what I order, and I have to downgrade my beads. Here are my grading standards:
Grade B: More than three beads on the strand have significant issues, such as visibly chipped drill holes, broken beads, obvious variance in size or color, poor drilling.
Grade A: Beads should be consistent in size and color. Good shape, center drilling, and polish.
Grade AA to Top. These grades typically pertain to gemstones with a variety of transparency or color saturation, such as garnet, amethyst, citrine, aquamarine, lapis, and even tiger eye.
For each batch of beads I receive, I measure the size of the smallest bead and the largest to get the size range. Then I compare every strand of that same bead and size to ensure all strands are within the same range so you have consistent sizes to work with. Just know that size is seldom exact. Cheaper beads tend to run large, and expensive beads (often sold by the gram), tend to run small.
Round beads should not be oblong, off-round, chipped, or with excessive flats. Non-round beads can be consistent in shape or more organic. Any variations or defects will be stated in the product description.
Color of both naturally colored and dyed beads will often change from batch to batch, which is why I photograph every new batch. When you order multiple strands from me, I try to make sure the color of the strands matches.
I look to see if the beads are properly center drilled and the drill holes are sound. It's natural for a few beads to be drilled slightly off center, but none but the pickiest of people will notice.
I measure every strand I receive and list the length of the shortest strand. For example, I order 20 strands: 12 are 15.8" long, 6 are 15.5", and 2 are 15.25". I will list the strands as 15.25" Minimum.
Gemstones are routinely treated to improve their appearance and durability. When listing treatment of my beads, I always err on the side of caution. For example, in most cases, citrine is heated amethyst. Rock crystal and smoky quartz are most likely synthetic. Aquamarine is usually heated, as is carnelian. All so-called black onyx is dyed agate.
Again, using Chinese rose quartz as an example, these low-cost beads are usually very pale and tumbled in red wax, which leaves behind some color. Quality Madagascar rose quartz needs no such treatment, but its price is far higher.
So don't be afraid of treatments. They often make the unaffordable affordable.
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