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Pearl Shapes 101 - The Basics

Close your eyes, and picture in your mind a pearl necklace. We’d bet $100 that what you envisioned is the classic white Akoya pearl necklace, perfectly round in shape. But what if we told you it doesn’t have to be that way?

From perfect rounds to buttons and baroques, the world of cultured pearls offers a range of shapes to satisfy every taste and budget. Welcome to Pearl Shapes 101. Consider this your official introductory course to learn more about the unique range of pearl shapes. By the time you’re done reading this short guide, you’ll know more than most professional jewelers. More importantly, you’ll be able to find the exact pearls you want with ease.

How Do Pearls Get Their Shapes

The goal of every pearl farmer is to create perfectly round pearls, but it doesn’t always work out that way. In fact, it hardly EVER works out that way. Perfectly Round pearls are the rarest and most valuable shape there is!

Pearl producing mollusks are usually nucleated with spherical bead nuclei (in the hopes that the resulting pearl will be a perfect Round). This round nucleus is inserted into the host mollusk, which then encircles it with a pearl sac. The pearl sac will take the same shape as the bead nuclei (i.e. round), but variations and irregularities often occur inside the mollusk.

As the mollusk secretes nacre to coat the bead nucleus inside, the forming pearl begins to take shape. The muscles of the mollusk’s body gently roll the nucleus around while the pearl inside slowly forms.

Any interruption in this layering process causes variations in the nacre, which then gets “stacked” on top of with successive layers of nacre. Irritants, sudden changes in temperature and environment, even a parasite infection … this and more can be the reason why a pearl’s formation is disrupted, leading to its final shape.

How Does Shape Affect Its Value?

Shape is one of the more important Value Factors that jewelers use to grade and value pearls.

The gold standard when it comes to pearl’s shapes is of course perfectly Round. It is the rarest and the most valuable in addition to the most “classic” shape for most pearl shoppers.

But beyond Round, what you are looking for in a nice-looking pearl shape are characteristics like smooth, symmetrical shapes. For this reason, smooth Drop Shaped pearls are the next most valuable pearl shape. Baroque pearls are generally considered the least valuable pearl shapes, but quite often Baroques are highly collectible due to their unique nature.

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Most Common Pearl Shapes

Pearl Shapes: True Round Pearls

Perfectly Round Pearls

  • Perfectly round and symmetrical.
  • Most valuable of all pearl shapes.
  • Perfectly Round pearls account for just 5-10% of each pearl harvest.
  • All pearl types are capable of producing perfectly Round pearls.
  • Perfectly Round pearls that can roll smoothly in all directions are called “Eight Way Rollers”.
  • Akoya pearls are most known for their perfect Round shapes.

Near-Round Pearl Shapes

  • Pearls that are “Round to the eye”, but have subtle variances visible on careful inspection, giving them a “wobble”.
  • Due to their Near-Round shape, they are considered “spherical” and will still feature higher pricing tiers over other pearl shapes.
  • Near-Round pearls still offer excellent savings opportunities. These pearls will give the appearance of being perfect Rounds, but won’t have the premium pricing of Perfect Round pearls. The best deals can be had in South Sea pearls or Tahitian pearl necklaces.
Pearl Shapes: Near-Round Pearls

Pearl Shapes: Button Pearls

Button Pearl Shapes

  • Button pearls feature flattened bottoms (and occasionally tops), resembling small dome-shaped pearls.
  • Button-shaped pearl necklaces will feature slightly squished-looking rounded pearls.
  • Buttons are an excellent choice for pearl earrings. The flat bottoms are very comfortable to wear.
  • Most commonly found with Freshwater pearls, but Button-shaped pearls can be found in any pearl type.

Drop Shaped Pearls

  • Can be found in Oval to Barrel and classic Tear-Drop shapes.
  • Perfectly symmetrical in form.
  • Drops are the 2nd most popular pearl shape to buy after perfect Rounds.
  • Perfectly matched, very large Drop-Shape pairs for earrings do fetch top prices due to rarity.
  • Drop-Shapes represent about 15-20% of each pearl harvest.
Pearl Shapes: Drop-Shaped Pearls

Pearl Shapes: Baroque Pearls

Baroque Shapes

  • One of the most prevalent pearl shapes, accounts for nearly 40-50% of any pearl harvest.
  • Baroque pearls can be symmetrical or totally free-form.
  • Unique, uneven forms that can resemble barrels, off-rounds, tops, drops and more. Variety is the name of the game with Baroque pearls.
  • Can be circled with shallow to deep rings running around the circumference of the pearl.
  • Baroque pearl necklaces are the least expensive pearl shape to purchase, with savings running from 50-80% below premium Round pearl necklaces of the same pearl type.

Circled Baroque Pearls

  • Circled Baroque pearls are pearls that are Baroque but feature one or more circles on them. Usually they are very heavily circled.
  • Circled pearls were first promoted by Tiffany’s in the 1970s as “Circles of Love”. Tahitian pearl producers needed a way to create desire for these unusual pearls.
  • Circled baroques usually feature high concentrations of color banding and luster.
  • Because Circled pearls are considered part of the Baroque pearl shape, Circled pearls also account for 40-50% of each pearl harvest.
  • Originally promoted with Tahitian pearls, Circled Baroque pearls can also be found in South Sea and Freshwater pearl types.
Pearl Shapes: Circled Baroque Pearls

Why You Might Want To Consider Baroque Pearls

Choosing the Right Pearl Shape

How to Pick the Right Pearl Necklace Shape

Choosing the right pearl shape is often a case of “you know it when you see it”, but here are a few tips to point you in the right direction.

If you’re after a strictly “Classic” look, True Round pearls are the way to go. We recommend checking out Akoya pearls, Gem Grade Freshwater pearls and Round Tahitian and South Sea pearl necklaces.

If you still want that high-end Round pearl necklace look, but not the price tag, it is worth the time and effort to seriously consider Near-Round and Button-Shape strands.

Choose Drop-Shaped pearl necklaces if you want to slip into something unique but that still retains a romantic, chic aesthetic. Drops are also a great way to indulge in high-end Tahitian or South Sea pearls without that premium price tag that True Round pearls have.

Go for Baroque if you’re looking for something totally one of a kind, and you already have “the staples” covered. Whether they’re more classically Baroque shapes, heavily Circled pearls or you like looking at the wild child of pearls, the Free Form Baroque, your options are endless and endlessly entertaining.

The Perfect Strand of Pearls

Fine Pearl Necklaces

The perfect strand of pearls... Is it possible?

Choose from a classic Akoya pearl strand, exotic black Tahitians, luxurious South Sea necklace or versatile Freshwater pearls. Each pearl necklace we offer is strung with individually chosen pearls, meticulously matched to create the perfect pearl necklace, and finished with a clasp of your choice.

With prices starting at $295, owning your perfect pearl necklace has never been easier, or more affordable.

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