Pearl Types & Pearl Names

Renowned for their luster, these cultured saltwater pearls are the pearls most often used in necklaces. They are generally white or cream-colored. They also tend to be the most consistently round and near-round pearls. Originally produced exclusively in Japan, there are now Chinese Akoya pearls in the market.

Pearls that are both non-symmetrical and irregular in shape. Used as a general term for any shape that does not fit other categories! Can include pearls shaped like popcorn, peanuts, bullets, rocks and so on.

Button pearls are round pearls that are flattened to some degree, making them resemble a button or perhaps a disk rather than a perfect sphere. Often they are flat on one side. They tend to be quite uniform, and are popular as spacers.

Coin pearls are pearls that are round and flat on two sides, making them shaped like a coin or a pancake. They come in a variety of colors--most often achieved through a dye process--and can be very large with 10-12 mm in diameter not being unusual.

Pearls that are grown inside a mollusk when a foreign item has been surgically implanted by human means. Cultured pearls are grown on pearl farms where several thousand mollusks can be implanted and cared for over the 2-5 years required for a pearl to develop. Cultured pearls were generally thought of as expensive, high-end pearls, and the word is still used widely with that higher value in mind. But in a sense, all pearls grown on pearl farms are cultured – the word simply refers to those grown with human intervention rather than occurring randomly in nature.

Pearls that are pear or teardrop-shaped. The drop can either be "long" or "short," depending on its proportions. These pearls make attractive earrings or pendants.

Pearls that come from freshwater mollusks (not oysters, which are in salt water only) and cultivated in lakes and rivers, not in the ocean. They are often somewhat less lustrous than their saltwater counterparts. However, they appear in a wide variety of shapes and colors, and they tend to be less expensive than saltwater pearls, making them quite popular. Freshwater pearls are also quite durable, resisting chipping, wear, and degeneration. A single mollusk can produce up to 50 pearls. The quality of freshwater pearls is improving each year, and it is getting more difficult to tell the difference between them and their saltwater cousins.

Simulated pearls manufactured entirely by man or machine. They have no real value as a gemstone. They can be made from glass, ceramic, shell, or even plastic. The bead is then coated with varnish and/or other materials in order to produce a pearl-like luster and iridescence. A common test to determine whether a pearl is genuine or imitation consists of scraping the pearl gently across one's teeth. Imitation pearls feel smooth to the tooth, while genuine pearls feel slightly gritty or abrasive. Also, if the pearls are perfectly smooth, round and uniform, they are likely imitation pearls, unless you paid $10,000 for the strand!

Keshi Pearls are among the most lustruous of pearls. They are formed when an oyster rejects and spits out the nucleus implanted during the process of producing cultured pearls. Because the nucleus has been expelled by the oyster, the resulting Keshi Pearl is pure nacre, giving it unparalleled luster and beauty. These Keshi Pearls--also known as Petal Pearls--can form in either saltwater or freshwater and are relatively rare. They can come in a variety of colors, both naturally and dyed.

MABE (DOME, BLISTER) PEARLS – (pronounced "mah-bay")
A hemispherical shaped pearl which is grown against the inside of the oyster's shell, rather than within its tissue. The pearl develops in a dome form with a flat back – the back is usually attached manually after harvesting. Cultured mabes are used for such things as rings and earrings, rather than for stringing on necklaces.

Pearls that are not perfectly round, but almost. Instead, they are slightly flattened or elongated, rather than being a perfect sphere. Nonetheless, they are so nearly perfect that they are classified as round pearls. Only a tiny percentage of “round” pearls are perfectly round – most round pearls are slightly off-round anyways. Closeness to round is one of the important factors determining the value of a pearl.

Pearls with an irregular shape resembling stones or nuggets. The surfaces can be smooth or rough. Except for larger, quality nuggets (also classified as “baroque”), nugget pearls tend to be on the lower price scale. There is a wide variance of quality among nugget pearls – those with blemishes, wrinkled surfaces and jagged edges should be selling at a very low price!

Elongated roundish pearls with curved lines that are oval-shaped like an egg, narrower at the ends than in the center. They are sometimes also referred to as “rice” pearls. But they are the best-shaped and highest-valued form of rice pearls, and are quite often so beautiful that they deserve a more dignified classification!

Roundish pearls with a slightly oblong shape and less-symmetrical curves, resembling more a potato than a sphere. Most potato pearls are freshwater cultured pearls from China. They are a very affordable substitute for round pearls, and are popular with jewelry-makers and beaders for that reason. Larger potato pearls with good surface and luster still make gorgeous necklaces. There is a wide variance in quality among potato pearls, with the lowest quality characterized by rings or grooves and bad shape, and the highest quality being almost on par with near-round pearls.

An elongated freshwater pearl with a crinkled or ringed surface, many of which resemble a grain of rice. The more oval-shaped the pearl, the higher the value, especially if it does not have rings or other surface imperfections. The more wrinkled the surface, the lower the value, making these some of the cheapest pearls available on the market.

Pearls that are almost perfectly spherical, which is the shape most people think of when they think of a pearl. Because of their relative rarity and "classic" nature, they are highly desirable. The rounder, the better! But as the shape approaches closer to round, the price can rise exponentially. “Round” classification can include pearls that are “near-round” or “almost-round”, and it is sometimes difficult to know where to draw the line between “round” and “potato.”

Pearls that come from mollusks that live in saltwater, the most well-known of which are oysters. Traditionally, pearls in past generations were almost all saltwater pearls. But these days, the majority of pearls are freshwater pearls. Saltwater pearls tend to be rounder and have richer tones, and thus still fetch a much higher price. The best pearls in upscale jewelry shops are usually saltwater pearls.