Pearl Shapes

Given that cultured pearls are natural organic gems, they exhibit in a number of shapes, each with its own unique characteristics. No two pearls are exactly alike and every pearl presents in a slightly different shape. The shape of the pearl is one of several factors that determine its quality and value. In all pearl types, round pearls are the “classic” shape and generally the most valuable and sought-after shape. Perfectly spherical pearls, though, are the rarest of cultured pearls. Combined with good quality nacre and superior luster, they command the highest prices in the pearl market.

The shape of the pearl depends largely on the shape of the inserted nucleus. As the pearl grows slowly inside the mollusk, nacre is deposited around the bead-nucleus. If the bead is round, the resulting pearl will most likely reflect this shape. It is worthwhile to keep in mind, however, that the culturing period is somewhere between 16-24 months. Other factors that affect pearl shape will certainly come into play like ocean currents, the quality of the nucleus, the handling of the mollusks (they are suspended in lines or baskets and removed from the water to be cleaned regularly during their growth period), water temperature and salinity, and the purity of the marine environment from whence they are expected to thrive. These factors do not affect pearl shape alone but the overall quality of the pearl.

7 Basic Pearl Shapes


  • ROUND. They appear as perfectly spherical to the eye. The most desirable shape, as well as the most valuable.
  • NEAR-ROUND. These pearls are not perfectly round. Some may be slightly elongated or flattened. They may seem completely spherical but have fine irregularities when compared closely to perfectly round pearls.


  • OVAL. These pearls are narrower at the ends than they are in the center. Rounded, oblong-shaped pearls fall under this category.
  • BUTTON. Circular shape but flattened or slightly flattened to some degree on one side. Often used in stud earrings where the flattened side is attached to the setting.
  • DROP. Drop pearls are pear- or teardrop-shaped. They are symmetrically extended. The drop can either be a “long” or a “short” one. These pearls are most often used in pendants or earrings.


  • SEMI-BAROQUE. Slightly irregular oval, button or drop shape, non-symmetrical in nature.
  • BAROQUE. Pearls with both non-symmetrical and noticeably irregular appearances. No definitive shape. They can resemble a cross, stick, or some other abstract shape. Baroque pearls are admired for their uniqueness as well as their affordability.

Other Pearl Shape Variations


These are pearls with one or more grooves or rings encircling them. These concentric rings appear around the diameter of the pearl. Darker colors tend to concentrate in the rings, increasing the contrast of their brighter body color. They are cherished, too, because of their unique look. This adjective can be added to a basic pearl shape to more fully describe a pearl. For instance, there are “circled baroque” pearls or “ringed oval” pearls.


Little bumps which grow from the main pearl. It is a Japanese term to describe a small bump or protrusion or a bubble emanating from a typically smooth surface. These bumps attach to a larger beaded cultured pearl, appearing to sit as an extension on the main pearl. These oddities result from accidental growth during culturing. The grafting procedure may be the root cause of Tokki pearl formation.


A keshi is a pearl without a nucleus formed by accident as a by-product of a pearl culturing operation. The word means “poppy seed” in Japanese. Keshi pearls are formed when the oyster rejects the implanted nucleus before the culturing process is complete. A separate pearl sac is formed without the nucleus. These pearl sacs eventually produce pearls without a nucleus, and therefore are composed entirely of nacre. More on Keshi here.