Types of Pearls

Pearls are one of the most timeless and elegant of all jewelry items. They’re an iconic piece to own and often become family heirlooms. Be it a necklace, bracelet, ring, or set of earrings, pearls have a way of looking classic and tasteful on anyone. Browse our pearl collection and learn more about this beautiful style statement below.

The Background of Pearls

Pearls are the most classic and unique of all jewelry styles. No two pearls are exactly alike. Pearls are the only gem to originate from a living organism, as opposed to gemstones. When a foreign matter enters a mollusk, such as a small fish or parasite, it coats the foreign object. The mollusk then develops epithelial cells around the matter and produces nacre. The shell continues to produce layers of nacre, and the pearl is the composition of the multiple layers of nacre.  A cross-section of a pearl would look like an onion cut in half.

Jackie Kennedy sporting a pearl necklace made of freshwater pearls.

How Are Cultured Pearls Made?

Natural and cultured pearls are grown in oysters. A natural pearl is grown on its own. These pearls are rare because most pearls today are grown with help. Cultured pearls are grown in controlled water by pearl farmers. By grafting tissue (epithelial cells) from an expensive oyster and a perfectly round piece of shell (nucleus) inside the oyster, a beautiful pearl develops. Pearl farmers use every portion of the harvest. For instance, the mussels are a dining delicacy and empty shells are the beautiful Mother of Pearl.

What Are The Four Types of Cultured Pearls?

There are four major types of cultured pearls: South Sea, Akoya, Tahitian, and Freshwater.

South Sea Pearls 

South Sea pearls are high-end pearls due to their thick nacre. The Pinctada Maxima oyster is large in size, which yields a larger pearl. Their color variation spans a black multicolor to a multicolor pastel. There are also white and gold South Sea pearls.  South Sea Pearls can be found in the range of 8-20MM, with the average being 12MM.

Akoya Saltwater Pearls 

Akoya saltwater pearls were the first of round cultured pearls. William Saville-Kent was the first to successfully culture a pearl from an oyster. Akoya pearls are most commonly white. There is a growing market for black Akoya pearls. Japanese Akoya pearls are higher quality than Chinese Akoya pearls.

Tahitian Pearls

Tahitian pearls are known for their incandescent black color. The sensitive mollusk of the Pinctada Margaritifera or black-lipped oyster produces these exotic pearls. Tahitian pearls are also gray, green, and blue. The chocolate Tahitian pearl is a true rarity and beauty. Black Tahitian pearls are more exceptional and expensive. The Tahitian government has actually set up regulations to control pearl production.

Freshwater Pearls

Freshwater pearls are found in ponds, rivers, and lakes. The cultivation process does not use a beaded nucleus. One hardy mussel is harvested multiple times, which lowers the cost of Freshwater pearls. Freshwater pearls have an inherent variety of colors such as rose, white, and cream. The term Byzantine pearls comes from the altered shape of pearls.

Cultured Freshwater Pearls

What Are the Different Shapes of Pearls?

Pearls come in eight basic shapes: round, semi-round, button, drop, pear, oval, baroque. and circled. Below we’ll cover the features of each.

Round Pearls

A round pearl is one that is perfectly round and symmetrical like a sphere. It’s the most valuable of all pearl shapes, accounting for just 5 to 10% of each pearl harvest. All pearl types are capable of producing round pearls, though Akoya pearls are most known for their round shape.

Semi-Round Pearls

A semi-round pearl is one that appears round to the eye but has subtle variances when inspected more closely that gives it a wobble when you place it on a surface. Because they still appear spherical to the eye, they’re still featured in the higher pricing tiers. However, since they’re not classified as perfectly round, there’s also an opportunity to save some money. The best deals on this shape are among South Sea and Tahitian pearls.

Button Pearls

Button pearls have flat bottoms and occasionally tops, resembling small dome-shaped pearls. They look a bit as though a round pearl has been slightly squished. The flat bottom makes them an excellent choice for pearl earrings, since they can rest flatly against the ear. This shape is most commonly found among Freshwater pearls, but it can be found in any pearl type.

Drop Pearls 

A drop pearl can be found in oval to barrel and tear-drop shapes. These are the second-most popular shape to buy after round. They’re perfectly symmetrical and represent about 20% of each pearl harvest. A pair of large, well-matched drop pearls make for a more pricey pair of earrings.

Oval Pearls 

Oval pearls have an elongated or oblong round body. To find one that is perfectly symmetrical is quite rare. This pearl shape looks beautiful when used in a variety of jewelry pieces, from pendants to earrings or string necklaces.

Baroque Pearls 

Baroque pearls are one of the most prevalent shapes, accounting for almost half of any pearl harvest. Their unique, uneven, free-form look is what gives them the name. Despite their uniqueness, baroque pearls are the least expensive to purchase, with some being as much as 80% cheaper than premium round pearls.

Circled Pearls 

Circled pearls are baroque-shaped pearls that feature one or more circles. They often have high concentrations of color and luster. Tiffany’s coined their markings as “circles of love” in the 1970s to popularize this unusual pearl look. Being that they fall under the Baroque category, circled pearls account for about half a pearl harvest as well.


Natural or cultured, pearls are timeless in any shape or style. Tyson’s has an esteemed and varied collection of pearls. Browse pearls today to find the piece that will become your next jewelry statement.