Normally, the more round and symmetrical the pearl, the more it costs. Unique, asymmetrical shapes, however, are also desirable, and are sued to create distinctive pearl pieces. The lowest priced shapes are baroque (irregular and asymmetrical in shape) or have ring-like formations encircling the pearl. Type of pearl should be taken into consideration while you are judging the pearl shape.
The pearl's shape is a factor in determining its quality and price. Pearl experts generally divide pearls into three main categories: Spherical, Symmetrical, and Baroque. However, smaller subcategories are useful in classifying different shapes commonly used in pearl jewelry. Following is a breakdown of the common shapes you'll find in our fine pearl jewelry and in other stores:
For example, expensive natural pearls are typically baroque, whereas cheap cultured pearls with thin nacre (pearl coating) are generally round. That's because natural pearls don't contain a round nucleus bead, and cultured pearl beads that are hardly coated with nacre don't have much of a chance to grow irregular. The typical shapes of five pearl types are described below to help you learn what degree of roundness to expect of pearls. They are listed from the most commonly round to the most commonly baroque.
1. Round: This is the shape everyone thinks of when they think of pearls. However, perfectly round natural pearls are quite rare, and so they have the greatest value. The perfection of a round pearl is considered most suited to showing off a pearl's innate beauty. Although other shapes are not as rare and valuable, and many consider them not as beautiful, they can be quite unique when enhanced by creative setting design. Akoya pearls with thin nacre are often round. Akoya pearls with thick nacre are frequently off-round, but round ones are available too.
2. Near round / Off-round: This covers pearls that are round, but not perfect spheres. Near round pearls can be slightly flattened or elongated in shape. They are classified along with round pearls in the "Spherical" category. South Sea cultured Rarely perfectly round; the larger the pearl, the more it will tend to deviate from round. Cultured off-round freshwater pearls are also readily available. They are normally much more affordable than saltwater pearls of similar quality and size.
3. Oval: Oval pearls have ends that are narrower than the center. They are classified by experts as "Symmetrical."
4. Drop: Drop pearls are shaped like a teardrop or a pear. They can be short and fat, or elongated. They make beautiful earrings and pendant necklaces, and are categorized, along with oval pearls, as "Symmetrical."
5. Button: Button pearls have a flattened, disk-like shape. They are often used in stud earrings, where the flattest side of the disk can be attached to the setting.
6. Baroque: Baroque pearls are the oddballs - they come in endless irregular shapes that don't fit in the other categories. They are considered the least valuable of all the pearl shapes. However, they can be highly lustrous and quite beautiful, especially when placed in a creative setting that enhances the unique shape. They are commonly found in more affordable pearl jewelry. Natural saltwater pearls are usually baroque or semi-baroque. Round ones are extremely rare. Baroques are often regarded as a good alternative to the more expensive symmetrical shapes when one's budget is limited. Baroque Akoya pearl strands are considered low quality. Freshwater, cultured & natural pearl are frequently baroque, especially if they are natural. Baroque freshwater pearls & Tahitian pearls are considered desirable.
Even though dealers agree round is the most expensive shape, there is no standardized system for determining how shape affects pearl prices. As previously mentioned, the way pearls are discounted for shape variation can differ from one dealer to another. Don't let this lack of standardization lead you to ignore pearl shape as a value factor. Consider it important, and keep in mind when judging pearl prices that it's best to compare pearls of the same shape as well as the same size, color, type and luster.
Other Pearl Quality Factors