Give Pearls a Try: 8 Popular Shapes for Modern Style

Jean Campbell, Contributing Editor

Pearl jewelry today: what's in your jewelry box?

I was just doing a little spring cleaning and ran across my mom’s jewelry box. It’s filled with what you might expect in a box circa 1958: elegant enamel and crystal brooches, Bakelite bracelets, bold glass cabochon earrings, and a few single-strand pearl necklaces. The pearl necklaces made me nostalgic, but also got me thinking about how I use pearls in my pieces. So I went to my jewelry box (the big plastic one under my bed, meant for holding wrapping paper rolls) and had a good look. I actually laughed out loud, thinking about how differently we design pearl jewelry today!

It’s obviously a change from when my mom was filling her jewelry box. For one thing, freshwater pearls are now seen as a suitable substitute for ocean pearls. Freshwater pearls are so readily available (and considerably less expensive!) that designers over the last 15 years or so have eagerly embraced  the glowing lusciousness and endless variety of freshwater pearls. Plus, the pearl’s historical significance in jewelry design plays right into the vintage-inspired looks that are so popular today.

Not your mother's pearls
Want to be inspired to make your own modern pearl jewelry? You can do so today—just download the brand-new eBook Best of Stringing Pearls. You’ll get instructions for 12 beautiful pearl-infused projects, including one by Teri Bienvenue called Not Your Mother’s Pearls—an apt name for her necklace, but also for what I witnessed under my bed.
8 freshwater pearl shapes to use in your designs
The freshwater pearls you see in shops these days come in an endless variety. Here are 8 of the most popular shapes to look for:

1: Baroque pearls have a fat, misshapen look. Sometimes you’ll find them with one flat side.

2: Button pearls are flat on one side, rounded on the other, and have a hole from back to front like a button.
3: Keishi pearls look like corn flakes. They are usually drilled through the center. 4: Potato pearls have a rough oval shape with the hole drilled through the short side.

5: Rice pearls look just like what they’re named after—grains of rice. They are drilled lengthwise and are usually less than 4mm long.

6: Round pearls are perfect (or near-perfect) spheres. These are a little tricky to find in the freshwater-pearl variety, but they’re out there!
7: Shaped pearls such as these start as a small object inserted into the mollusk, which the mollusk covers with nacre, or mother-of-pearl.

8: Stick pearls are long and look like branches. They are drilled horizontally either near the top or in the middle.

What’s your favorite pearl shape? How do you incorporate pearls into your work? Let's chat on Beading Daily.

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About jeancampbell

Jean Campbell is the founding editor (and currently the senior editor) of Beadwork magazine and has written and edited more than 45 beading books. She has written for Beading Daily and has appeared on the DIY Jewelry Making show, The Shay Pendray Show, and PBS' Beads, Baubles, and Jewels where she gives how-to instructions, provides inspiration, and lends crafting advice. Jean teaches jewelry-making workshops throughout the United States and calls Minneapolis home.

2 thoughts on “Give Pearls a Try: 8 Popular Shapes for Modern Style

  1. Thank you Jean for this quick primer on pearl types! I have several of these but did not know the difference. Also thank you for putting it in a short, sweet, & best of all VISUAL format! Keep up the good work!

  2. Those Bakelite bracelets are collector’s items today. Sell just one of those babies on consignment and you’ll fill your pearl stash for a year (at least).

    Ann Moore