Because pearls are natural organic substances, they occur in a wide variety of shapes, many of which are quite unique and interesting. Every pearl has a slightly different shape. The round pearls you most commonly see are by no means the only shape in which pearls are found! Indeed, perfectly round pearls are actually quite rare. This is because the eventual shape of the pearl is determined by a number of highly variable factors, which occur inside the oyster as the pearl is developing.
Image courtesy of PearlParadise.com
What Factors Affect Pearl Shapes?
For example, the pearl often assumes the same shape as its nucleus (the bead which was placed inside the mollusk to initiate the formation of the pearl). If the nucleus is not perfectly round, the resulting pearl is likely to reflect this irregularity. In addition, the pearl's positioning within the mollusk also plays a role in determining its shape. If the pearl develops against the shell, for example, it will become more flattened on that side.
The Three Main Categories Of Pearl Shapes
The pearl experts generally divide pearl shapes into three broad categories, based on their overall characteristics:
- Spherical shapes are perfectly round or nearly round. They are the "classic" pearl shape that is most familiar.
- Symmetrical shapes are balanced and regular. If you sliced this pearl in half, each half would be a mirror image of the other half.
- Baroque shapes are irregular or abstract. They are non-symmetrical in nature.
The Seven Basic Pearl Shapes
Within these three broad categories, pearls can be classified into seven basic shapes:
- Round: Round pearls are perfectly spherical the shape most people think of when they think of a pearl. Because of their relative rarity and "classic" nature, they are highly desirable. Round pearls fall into the spherical category.
- Near-round: These pearls are not perfectly round. Instead, they are slightly flattened or elongated, rather than being a perfect sphere. Nonetheless, they are so nearly perfect that they, too, are classified as spherical.
- Oval: These pearls are shaped like an oval narrower at the ends, than they are in the center. Ovals are categorized as a symmetrical shape.
- Button: Button pearls are flattened to some degree, making them resemble a button or perhaps a disk rather than a perfect sphere. These pearls are often used in earrings, where the flattened side can be attached to the setting. Buttons are also categorized as symmetrical.
- Drop: Drop pearls are pear or teardrop-shaped. The drop can either be "long" or "short," depending on its proportions. These pearls make attractive earrings or pendants. This is also a symmetrical shape.
- Semi-baroque: These pearls are slightly irregular in their shape. For example, a pearl which might otherwise be considered an oval, button, or drop pearl, but which is not symmetrical in nature, would be considered semi-baroque. Semi-baroque pearls fall into the baroque category of shapes.
- Baroque: This is a pearl that is both non-symmetrical and irregular in shape. The baroque pearl can be purely abstract in its shape, or it can resemble a cross, stick, or some other shape. Baroque pearls fall into the baroque category.
There Are Many Variations In Pearl Shapes
Within these basic categories and definitions, there can be many variations. Some pearls, for example, develop with one or more grooves or rings encircling them. These pearls are known as ringed or circled. This adjective can be attached to the primary shape in order to more fully describe the pearl, such as "circled round" or "ringed oval."
Pearl Shape Is A Major Factor In Pearl Value
The shape of the pearl is one of several factors which goes into determining its quality, and therefore also its value. In general, round and near-round pearls are the most valuable, because of their rarity. Symmetrical shapes are generally considered to be more desirable than baroque shapes. Baroques, however, can be extremely unique, thus increasing their desirability more than might be expected based on their shape alone.
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