Unsetting mabes is a thankless job! Try to get the customer to
okay doing this at their risk, because you’re taking a chance.
The solvent process is likely to delaminate the piece or even
effect the polyester or epoxy filling.
Heat can delaminate the piece and at worst, burn the pearl. Is
the piece backed in solid metal? If yes then you can only remove
it with heat or solvent. You would have to drill a little hole
from the back so that you can apply gentle steady pressure to it
while heating the metal carefuly. The key is to get the mabe out
of the setting ASAP before the filling starts to be effected.
If the piece is set in an open-backed bezel, I suggest, if
possible to carefully cut away as much of the epoxy with an
exacto knife as you can, then try your torch-heat approach,
being careful to apply the torch to the metal only. If the piece
should delaminate, carefully clean both the filler-dome and the
inside of the nacre-dome with acetone or alcohol. Then use an
epoxy to rebond the piece. If the filler is effected by solvents,
remove the filling fom the pearl and the shell backing, clean
all parts thouroughly with acetone and fill with a polyester
resin (possibly tinted if you’re dealing with a colored pearl.
Finally sand flat when cured and epoxy the back back on. (Wear a
respirator: pearl dust is poisonous!) I regularly work with
abalone mabe’s, so if you get into trouble email me off line and
I’ll be glad to help.
Hope this helps, Tom Tietze
Opals of the Sea