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VI. Common Mabe Pearl Varieties - “Rainbow Lipped Pearl Oyster”

“Concha Nácar” or “Rainbow Lipped Pearl Oyster”

This species of pearl oyster (Pteria sterna) has been used to produce both cultured loose pearls and Mabe pearls in Mexico. The first Mabe pearls were obtained back in 1994 and were the main product for the Guaymas based pearl farm until loose cultured pearls became more common (2002). Since 2010, “Cortez Mabe” have been produced in a steady number between 1 to 5-thousand pearls per year. There is an experimental Mabe pearl farm in La Paz, Baja California, with an unknow number of Mabe produced per year and, recently, a group of researchers from Ecuador have been able of producing about 1-thousand pearls in their experimental farm, but this production may increase in the coming years and may even rival the production from Mexico.

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A biologist from Ecuador, inspecting “Rainbow Lipped oysters” for Mabe blister pearl production. Photo courtesy of Dr. César Lodeiros.

These pearl oysters are also associated with fan corals and found in deeper waters (up to 20 m/60 feet) and with colder temperatures, so they are extremely sensitive to high temperatures. They are much smaller than their Asian cousin (Pteria penguin) reaching a maximum size of 14 cm when they are about 8 years old, their maximum lifespan.

Thanks to Mexican pearl farmers, these pearls are known for their fancy shapes, thick nacre coating and highly iridescent shells, with the amplest color variations found in any other variety of Mabe pearl: from opalescent white to jet black, but displaying rich lavenders, deep purples, emerald greens, and true blues.
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A harvested “Rainbow Lip pearl oyster” with four Gem-grade Mabe blister pearls from the Cortez Pearl farm in Mexico.

Mabe pearl implantation takes place when pearl oysters are two years old and are harvested at least 18 months later. Up to Mabe pearls can be produced in a single pearl oyster but the average is 3, with about 50% of the resulting pearls considered of commercial quality.

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Gem grade “Cortez Mabe” pearls set in jewelry.