Baroque is a word commonly associated with non-symmetrical, irregularly-shaped pearls. The word it self is old and reportedly of Iberian origin, having been first used associated with pearls by the Portuguese. Later in the 17th century, it was acquired by the French art lexicon and became associated with a decorative art style.
Sometimes, however, it has been wrongly understood as a characteristic of a natural pearl, giving the erroneous impression that when a pearl is asymmetrical it is certainly a natural pearl. Although most natural nacreous pearls are not regular in shape, there are fine round examples; likewise, although many saltwater cultured pearls are round or near-round (due to the spherical bead that is commonly used in the culturing process) there are notable examples of baroque-shaped beaded cultured pearls. Interestingly, most non-bead cultured pearls that are by-products of the culturing process, the so-called keshi cultured pearls, are typically baroque.
In the photos, all natural pearls. Pendant in the form of a siren, probably ca. 1860 (front and back) © The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Barroque pearl figurine, ca. 1850-60 Jaipur © The Trustees of The British Museum; Gina Lollobrigida's pearl earrings © Sotheby's.
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Rui Galopim de Carvalho