Pearl Shapes - The Expert's Guide

While everyone knows and understands that the “classic” round pearl is considered to be the epitome of pearl perfection, there is an incredibly unique and beautiful range of shapes out there for pearl lovers to consider.

A pearl’s shape is one of the major Value Factors to consider when evaluating and pricing pearls, and is one of the more important aspects of the pearl’s value. There are 7 main Pearl Shape categories to know about, and each one has even more variations within that category providing nearly endless variety and beauty.

Round / True Round Pearls

Learn About Pearl Shapes: Round Pearls
  • Rarest and most valuable of all pearl shapes, accounting for less than 10% of each yearly pearl harvest.
  • Round pearls can be found in every major pearl type
  • The largest Round pearls can attain sizes of up to 21.0mm and command premium prices
  • Pearls that are famous for their perfectly Round shapes are Japanese Akoya pearls (including Certified Hanadama Akoya pearls), and are called “Eight Way Rollers”.

Near Round / Off-Round Pearls

What are Off-Round pearls
  • Pearls feature slight to definite deviations from true spherical shape are called “Off-Round” pearls
  • Generally appear more oval-ish to egg-shaped upon up-close inspection
  • Easy to spot these pearls by simply laying them flat on a plain white piece of paper and slowly rolling the strand back and forth while watching for a wobble. You can also hold these up about 6-inches away from your eyes, and rotate the strand slowly in front of your eyes to pick up on the variations.
  • Off-Round pearl shapes can occur in every pearl type, but are most prevalent in cultured Freshwater pearls from China.
  • Off-Round pearls offer excellent value for pearl lovers. Pearls will appear round-ish to the eye, but with substantially lower price points than their perfectly round cousins.

Button-Shape Pearls

Learn About Button-Shape Pearls
  • Typically will feature a flattened to slightly curved bottom with a domed top
  • In a full necklace, pearls will appear round-ish to the eye
  • Button-shape pearls are excellent for wearing as earrings – the flat bottoms are very comfortable on the ear lobe when used as pearl earrings.
  • Button pearls also offer great value for pearl lovers looking for a bargain, with considerably less expensive premiums over a pearl strand consisting of true Round pearls

Drop-Shape Pearls

About Drop-Shaped Pearls
  • Smooth, symmetrically-shaped pearls ranging from romantic tear-drop shapes to ovals
  • Represents the second-rarest pearl shape. Accounts for approximately 20% of each pearl harvest
  • Perfectly matched pairs of Drop-Shape pearls are rare, especially in larger sizes
  • Highly collectible, Drop-Shape pearls add an artistic flair and whimsy to any jewelry design, especially baroque pearl earrings and pearl pendants
  • Very high rates of luster and orient are often visible due to their shape variations
  • Drop-Shaped Tahitian and South Sea Pearl Necklaces are a visually stunning addition to any jewelry collection, often at substantially lower premiums than True Round Necklaces in the same pearl type

Baroque Pearls

What are Baroque Pearls
  • Baroque pearls are the most common pearl shape, representing up to 40% of each pearl harvest
  • Baroques feature an irregular shape and are very unique … like snowflakes, no two baroque pearls are exactly the same.
  • Actual shapes vary widely and can include a multitude of unique features and growth characteristics such as knobs, tips, circles, etc.
  • High rates of luster and orient are often visible due to uneven nacre accumulation causing very thick layers in various locations on the surface
  • Baroque pearl necklaces offer a fantastic opportunity to own a one of a kind Tahitian Pearl Necklace, South Sea or Akoya pearl necklace at a fraction of the cost of perfectly round necklace layouts.

Circled Baroque Pearls

What are Circled Pearls
  • Dubbed “Circles of Love” in the 1970s as a way to market circled pearls
  • Characterized by their trademark concentric rings running around the circumference of the pearl
  • Circles can be sparing, with just a few noticeable on the surface, or the pearl can be completely covered
  • Usually very high rates of luster, orient and overtone saturation can be seen on the surfaces of circled pearls. This is due to the very thick layers of crystalline nacre compaction around the bead nucleus on each pearl
  • Circles are an instantly recognizable growth characteristic, not an inclusion or blemish.

Free Form Baroque Pearls

Learn About Pearl Shapes: What are Free-Form Baroque Pearls?
  • Highly asymmetrical shaped pearls that are extremely unique - each one is a one-of-a-kind creation.
  • Often Free-Form Baroque pearls will feature a “watered silk” texturized surface that is quite appealing
  • Traditionally Free-Form Baroque pearls were used to create jewelry art. Jewelers would use these free-wheeling pearls to create animals, flora and fauna and mythical creatures from legend to turn into valuable brooches, pendants and necklace enhancers.
  • Free-Form Baroque pearls can be found in every pearl type, from exotic Tahitians to Japanese Akoya pearls and colorful Freshwater pearls.

How Do Pearls Get Their Shapes?

A pearl’s shape is due to the pearl’s formation process beginning with a single 1.0mm square piece of mantle tissue or a perfectly round mother-of-pearl bead nucleus inserted into the mollusc. Upon insertion, a pearl sac is formed around the irritant and the mollusk begins secreting concentric layers of crystalline nacre around the nuclei, eventually forming a pearl.

Essentially the bead nucleus is supposed to act as a perfectly round template for the oyster to lay nacre around, increasing the chances of harvesting a spherical pearl.

The amazing variety of shapes that occur with each harvest are due to subtle disruptions in the layering process inside the mollusk. This can be as something as tiny as an air bubble, to more invasive issues like parasites or bits of organic material that the animal has filtered into its interior body interrupting the delicate process, eventually resulting in the wonderful array of Off-Round, Drop-Shape and Baroque pearls.

Ready to Learn More About Pearl Grading?

View the rest of our pearl grading guides:

Brand Icon

Become a Pure Member

Stay up to date on our latest products, news, discounts, and more!

Get it Quick

Free 2-Day FedEx on all orders within the USA. Overnight delivery options start at $35.

Orders Ship Fast

Most orders ship within 1-2 business days, sometimes same day.

We Ship Worldwide

International shipping is affordable and fast. Most international packages arrive in 2-4 business days.

Worry Free Delivery

Your package is fully insured. If your order is lost or stolen before delivery, we got you covered.