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V. Processing Mabe or Natural Blisters

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  • V. Processing Mabe or Natural Blisters

    Since these pearls are not very useable in jewelry with the entire shell, they are processed: first they are cut from the shell, with the help of a handsaw, Dremel tool, core-drill or tile cutting saw. The type of tool will depend on availability and production volume, the first used mainly by occasional processing and the latter for commercial production.
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    A lineup of the Mabe pearl process.

    Once the blister is separated from the shell, these are rinsed to remove grime, dead animals, and mucus. They are then left to dry in a shaded area, exposing them to the sun may have unwanted results like inducing cracks.

    Once the piece of shell and pearl has dried out, the backside of the shell is removed by “popping” it out with a flat tool (such as a flat screwdriver). The inside of the dome is cleaned and the “Mabe insert” is also removed. Finally, the frontal piece is given a “shape” by drawing a shape around the blister to give it a final appearance.

    The blister is then filled with a plastic resin. In times past the filling material could have been beeswax, tree-sap, metal shavings and lead. Depending on the variety of pearl, the filling may be colorless, white, or colored. Colored resin is mostly used on thinly coated Mabe pearls to give them “color”, as it will be seen through the nacre layer. The usual colors used are blue and pink, but many other colors can be used on demand.
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    Collage of Mabe Pearl Process at the Cortez Pearl Farm in Mexico. 1 & 2: Cutting Blisters from their shells using tile cutting equipment to increase production. 3: Cut blisters are washed in freshwater for a couple of hours. 4: Blister pearl after washing and drying in the shade. 5: Removing the back cover (shell) from the blister pearl. 6: Drawing a shape on the blister. 7: The inner dome is filled with an epoxy resin and left to dry. 8: Blister is ground around to the selected shape and also on the back to remove excess resin. 9: A piece of mother-of-pearl shell is affixed to the back side and the pieces is gently polished to remove debris and have the final piece ready.

    Once the epoxy has dried, the piece can be sanded down to the chosen shape, and the back is smoothed as well to allow for fixing the backside of the finished Mabe pearl: a polished piece of mother-of-pearl shell.

    The mother-of-pearl shell back can be made according to the needs of the Mabe pearl producer. It can be thin and flat, or thick and domed. The decision is made based on the producer or the jewelry setting planned for the piece.
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    Two fully processed Mabe pearls from the “Mabe gai” pearl oyster. On the right side we have the “Classic Mabe” (perfect dome, round shaped) and a larger Mabe Blister (with some shell, oval shaped, concave shaped).

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    • Mabe Pearl Grading - 7) Dome Height
      by CortezPearls
      Part of the beauty of a Mabe pearl comes from its “dome” (height). When a Mabe pearl displays a low dome it most closely resembles a piece of mother-of-pearl shell than an actual pearl. Unfortunately, many Mabe pearls today are grown too flat, due to the intrinsic characteristic of the host shell: Pinctada shells are usually flatter than Pteria shells (the shells being much more concave) which does not allow for the use of tall implants, since these will touch the opposite shell and will cause the...
      08-23-2021, 11:20 PM
    • Mabe Pearl Grading - 6) Nacre Quality
      by CortezPearls
      The most important factor here is nacre thickness. Many Mabe are cultured for short periods of time (4 months) to obtain the most perfect shape, but at the expense of their nacre thickness and durability. On the other hand, there are producers that grown them for too long (over 12 months) and end up having pearls that have thick nacre, but their shapes are not standardized, and they may display one or more of the surface imperfections we discussed in the previous paragraph. There is usually a middle...
      08-23-2021, 03:47 PM
    • Grading Mabe Pearls -5) Surface Quality
      by CortezPearls
      As with other pearls, surface quality is an important attribute: the cleaner the surface is, the more desirable the Mabe is and more valuable too. The usual surface imperfections found in these are:

      • Missing Nacre: whitish, bite shaped marks.
      • Spots, pinpricks: dark or light-colored pin-prick markings.
      • Rippled surface: these are markings caused by the growth of the abductor muscle on top of the blister pearl. This marking causes the appearance of wavy...
      08-23-2021, 03:30 PM
    • Grading Mabe Pearls - 4) Mabe Luster
      by CortezPearls
      Mabe pearls are not very known for their great luster, although many of these pearls may display amazing luster. Mabe usually display a more silky or subdued luster, especially in the Pinctada species and is most shiny in the Pteria species…but luster is usually enhanced by means of a final polishing, done with a high-speed cloth-wheel and a polishing compound, although much care must be taken to avoid excessive polishing that leads to heat and may ultimately damage the pearls by “burning”...
      08-23-2021, 03:26 PM
    • Grading Mabe Pearls - 3) Colors
      by CortezPearls
      Mabe pearl color is highly dependent on the species of mollusk that is producing the blisters, and even within each species you will be able to find a great variation of all-natural colors, but many Mabe are also dyed to produce an artificial coloration. Although we will not go in great detail on this subject, we will quickly cover some of the ways these pearls are given these artificial colors.

      We have already covered the different natural colorations we can find in the different species...
      08-23-2021, 03:22 PM
    • Grading Mabe Pearls - 2) Mabe Shapes
      by CortezPearls
      Mabe pearls can have any shape desired, as long as you attach it to the mollusk’s shell. Some cultured pearls have done this same thing, especially some freshwater pearls that have used faceted mother-of-pearl beads to produce so called “diamond pearls”, or star- and even shuriken- shaped pearls, but in the case of Mabe pearls it is even much varied and you can find hearts, stars, teardrops, ovals, crosses, and basically, any other possible combination you can think of as long...
      08-23-2021, 03:11 PM
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