I just came back from the Mikimoto store, where I picked up my restrung strand and took some pictures. I tried on a AAA strand:
Here is a closeup:
Notice that the clasp has a diamond in the middle, instead of a pearl. The saleslady said that they do that with their AA and AAA strands. It seems odd to me that they of all people would value a diamond higher than a pearl.
As I was taking pictures, she was pulling out more AAA strands:
Remember, at the Mikimoto store you are not just paying for the pearls; there is the 'experience' and the mystique of the name as well... There are very nice pearls other places, but they lack the atmosphere. Myself, I'd rather spend my money just on the pearls, and have the fun of searching them out. I guess it's the excitement of the hunt, which for me is more fun than the atmosphere of a fancy store.