June 2022

A Quick Guide to Pearl Shapes


Let us start by asking you to think of a pearl. We ask you to think of one with your eyes closed. Chances are, the pearl you imagined is most likely a small, spherical one, all white and lustrous. It’s no magic. Nor is it a mental trick. The fact is, most of us tend to think that pearls are round in shape and are usually white in color. And nothing could be farther from the truth! Pearls can actually be of many different shapes (and colors). As a matter of fact, the perfectly round pearl that we so often imagine is something of a rarity in the world of natural pearls.

The reason why such a popular misconception exists is possibly due to two reasons. First, there is a general lack of knowledge about the different pearl types available in the world. Secondly, we have seen just too many round pearls in movies, paintings, magazines and advertisements. Let’s make one thing clear though – those white, lustrous, perfectly round pearls that we encounter so often on celluloid or glossy magazine pages do exist. It’s only that they are not as common as you might think them to be.

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Pearls are naturally occurring objects and as such, are rarely ‘perfect’. The final shape of a pearl is determined by a number of factors that start working while the pearl is developing within the bowels of the oyster. A major one among these is the size of the nucleus or the bead which is placed inside the mollusk to initiate the deposition of nacre that eventually gives rise to the pearl. The position of the pearl also affects its shape. For example, if the pearl develops against the shell, t will become more flattened on that side.

In the realm of pearls, 3 main categories of shapes exist. These are

  • Spherical: Comprising the ‘classic’ round or nearly-round shaped pearls
  • Symmetrical: Having shapes that are balanced, regular and symmetrical about a line of symmetry
  • Baroque: Featuring shapes that are irregular or abstract.

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Among these broad categories, several smaller and more specific pearl sizes exist. These are:

Round: The elusive and highly coveted, perfectly round pearls.

Near-round: Though not perfectly rounded, they are so close to perfection that they are considered spherical for all practical purposes.

Oval: These pearls are oval-shaped with narrowed ends and a bulging center.

Button: These are disc-shaped and noticeably flattened, and hence the name.

Drop: Drop shaped pearls are elongated in shape and make attractive earrings or pendants. This, like the previous two, is considered a symmetrical shape.

Semi-baroque: These pearls are slightly irregular in shape and yet have a close resemblance with spherical or oval shapes.

Baroque: Means the non-symmetrical, irregular and abstract shaped pearls. Not for all tastes and sometimes pretty pricey, too.

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