Pearl Shapes

Pearl Shapes Vary Widely
Because pearls are natural organic gems created by a myriad of living organisms, they occur in a wide variety of shapes, many of which are quite unique and interesting. Also, cultured pearls tend to be rounder than natural pearls because (saltwater) cultured pearls usually have a bead inside that will help guide the shape.
A large Variety Pearl Varieties and Shapes. Photo Courtesy of Kojima Co - A large Variety Pearl Varieties and Shapes. Photo Courtesy of Kojima Co
Some shapes are distinctively unique to certain species of mollusks, as is the case in Abalones (Haliotis spp) that commonly produce conical or tooth-shaped pearls.

Every single 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 quite rare. This is because the eventual shape of the pearl is determined by several highly variable factors, which occur inside the mollusk as the pearl is developing.

What Factors Affect Pearl Shapes?
  • A cultured 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 and will be identified as a "Button pearl".
  • Another thing that influences shape is the "pearl sac". This is the place where pearls -both natural and cultured- develop and if this sac-like organ has imperfections or is constrained by other organs it may end up having a different shape and this will lead to the pearl shape. For instance, if the sac has a "spot" where there is less nacre secretion, and the pearl is forming along a given axis (pearls usually rotate within the sac, if they don't you will obtain asymmetrical shapes or baroques) this imperfection will translate into a "ring" into the pearls body, and these are known as "circled/ringed/circlé pearls".
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An unusual "ringed pearl" that has rings on two different Axis of symmetry
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 near-round. This is the "classic" pearl shape that is most familiar to most buyers.
  • Semi-baroque or Symmetrical shapes are balanced and regular. If you sliced these pearls 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.

Pearl photos courtesy of the Cultured Pearl association of America
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 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.
  • Ringed/Circled: These are pearls that have one or more "rings" around an axis of symmetry. They a are usually symmetrical shaped and are not really a "true" shape but a special trait within a given shape, so they are refered to as "ringed drop", "circled oval" or "circlé button".
  • 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.

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.
  • Generally speaking, round, and near-round shaped pearls are the most valuable, because of their rarity.
  • Then we have the symmetrical (semi-baroques) shapes that are considered to be much more desirable than baroque shapes, and some shapes -such as drops- are considered by many to be preferred over any other shape.
  • Baroques, however, can be extremely unique, thus increasing their desirability more than might be expected based on their shape alone.

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A single Giant South Sea Baroque pearl. Image courtesy of

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