Mabé, or blister pearls are half-pearls that have been grown flush against the inside of a pearl oyster’s shell. They can be grown in Akoya, South Sea, Tahitian and Freshwater mollusks, however the most popular varieties to use are the Ptera sterna,Ptera penguin and Pinctada maxima mollusks.
Additionally, recent advances in culturing technology have presented us with the advent of cultured abalone mabé pearls, which are intensely colorful and highly sought after! At right is a collection of lustrous mabé pearls in traditional shapes and sizes. Mabé pearls can be grown in almost any shape, however rounds, ovals and drop-shapes are the most popular.
To culture a mabé pearl, the farmer needs to insert a plastic nucleus inside the mollusk and cement, or glue, it to the inside of the shell. After about 2-3 years of growth time, the oysters are harvested, and the blister pearls are cut out of the shells. Their nucleus is removed and the inside of the mabé pearl is lacquered and then filled with a resin and then sealed with a mother of pearl backing. You can easily find the area where they sealed the mabé pearl shut, but most jewelry will hide the seam so it will not be visible to the wearer.
Types of Mabe Pearls
Ptera Penguin – The Winged Oyster
Represents about 75% of all mabé pearl production today.
Japanese name is Mabé gai, which is where the term “Mabé” originated.
Cultivated in Ryukyu Islands of Japan, but also Indonesia, Australia and the Philippine Islands
Called the ‘winged oyster’ because of the elongated wing or fin extending from the lip.
Mabé pearls are Silvery-Grey with overtones of pink, green, violet and blue iridescence.
Ptera sterna – The Rainbow Lip Oyster
Rare with limited pearl production.
Named the rainbow lipped oyster because of its intense iridescence.
Cultivated in Gulf of California, Baja. Also known as “Sea of Cortez” pearls.
Mabé pearls are light to medium Grey colors with intense flashes of pink, green, violet and blue iridescence.
Cultured for both whole pearls and mabé pearls for jewelry.
Pinctada maxima - White and Golden South Sea Pearl Oysters
Grown in Golden-lipped and Silver-lipped saltwater oysters.
Cultivated off the coast of Northern Australia and the Philippine Islands.
Produces large mabé pearls of 10.0mm and up.
Mabé pearl colors are primarily Silvery-White and Golden, depending on the oyster variety.
Mabé production occurs at the end of the oyster’s productive lifespan, after multiple whole-pearl harvests have occurred.
Growth times may vary from 10-12 months on average, and produce an average of 8-10 blister pearls each with nacre thickness of 0.25-0.3mm.