Small is Beautiful - What are Seed Pearls?

The use of seed pearls in fine jewellery throughout the latter part of the 19th century was immensely popular. Elaborately decorated brooches, tiaras, pins and earrings were very representative of Victorian fashion at the time. In this article, we look at what are seed pearls?

A Fashionable Pearl

Seed pearls have long been admired by jewellers for their elegance and traditional style.

The example above of an exquisite Fabergé Egg, made for Nicholas II of Russia in 1901, stands just 12cm tall and is adorned with seed pearls. The famous French jeweller to the Tsars was known for crafting his jewelled masterpieces with precious metals, enamel, gems and delicate pearls.

Prestigious jewellers such as Tiffany, Cartier and Boucheron also studded their designs with these tiny gems to match the sensual decadence of La Belle Époque fashion.

How are these small pearls made?

The Formation of Seed Pearls

A seed pearl is a small natural pearl, formed in either a saltwater oyster or freshwater mussel, that is usually less than 2mm in diameter.

Seed Pearls

Image: Cultured seed pearls

These pearls would have been found when divers searched for natural pearls in the Persian Gulf and Asia, or closer to home in streams and rivers of the USA, Europe and the British Isles.

Today the term "seed pearl" is more widely used to describe a small pearl that has been created as a result of a pearl farmer trying to stimulate the formation of a cultured pearl in a mollusc.

Seed Pearl Jewellery

Image 1: Funeral Ring, Landscape and Temples, 18th Century
Image 2: Armband, Jacob Engelberth Torsk, Stockholm, 19th Century

These cultured seed pearls are formed with the accidental help of a loose piece of tissue in the mollusc, perhaps when the implanted bead has been separated from the pearl sac or has been expelled by the oyster.

Traditionally, the first cultured seed pearls would have been formed in Akoya oysters or Lake Biwa freshwater mussels in Japan.

Learn about the different Types of Pearls in our Buying Guide here.

Seed Pearls in Jewellery

Preparing such a tiny seed pearl for use in jewellery requires precision and a careful eye, particularly if the pearl is to be individually drilled and strung in a necklace or tassel earrings.

The famous Baroda Pearl Carpet, sold at auction by Sotheby's in 2009 for $5.5m, was covered with around 1.4 million seed pearls, all drilled by hand and sewn decoratively onto the fabric.

Beau Seed Pearls by Alice Cicolini

Image 1: Beau Seed Pearl and Diamond Ring with Yellow Gold
Image 2: Beau Seed Pearl and Enamel Pendant with Yellow Gold

Beau, our collection of pearl jewellery and pearl rings, inspired by the Georgian fashion for using seed pearls in jewellery, was designed by Alice Cicolini in 2013. The collection juxtaposes the delicate seed pearl with enamel and white diamonds, and uses the bow as its central motif.

We hope you will agree that Small is most certainly Beautiful!