Dubai is known for its oil riches and spectacular architecture, but it craves a return to its old glory, and the origin of its prosperity as the major producer

Of natural pearls.


In the past, pearl divers could hold their breath for two minutes and dive into the warm waters of the Gulf for the aquatic gems.

The lucrative trade was based on these “amphibious” men. Many died and many got rich. It was a time when a pearl was more expensive than gold – a time when the Gulf was the world’s pearl trade epicenter with $4 million revenue a year at the start of the 20th century.

In the 1930s that industry was turned upside down overnight, leaving the country desperate, when cultured  pearls were introduced by the Japanese, meaning they were no longer rare. In the 1960s, the oil boom returned the Gulf people’s interest to the sea, despite the value of natural pearls having fallen by 90%. But nowadays, while the pearl market is packed with cultured pearls from the Far East and West, natural pearls have returned to their throne, and an ambitious Dubai is attempting to revive the 3000-year-old pearl trade with an eye on the multibillion dollar natural and cultured pearl market.

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“The pearl trade is good nowadays,” says Ahmed Nasser, the manager of Dubai’s Al Fardan Jewellery, “in the 1950s-1960s the pearl value decreased because of the oil boom and cultured pearls, but nowadays the natural pearl price is growing since the market is full of cultured pearls and a natural pearl is a rare find.” The Al Fardan name has had a strong association with pearl trading in the Gulf for over a century, focusing on natural pearl trading.

Goma’a Bin Al-Thaleth is a director of the heritage projects in the Diving Village and a pearl diver-researcher, “Before, the whole trade in the Gulf was based on the pearls, but after 80 years it’s gone from the United Arab Emirates and from the Arabian Gulf entirely.” Mr. Ibn Al-Thaleth says Dubai can revive the market, but wistfully adds it can never revive the heritage behind it, “The pearl trade is now only a heritage. They can get back the trade but they can not bring back those traditional pearl divers, old pearl dhows and old tools.”

The grandfathers of both Al-Fourdan and Bin Al-Thaleth were part of an age when the Gulf’s wealth was enclosed in small oysters.

The current global pearl market runs on cultured saltwater and freshwater pearls. Two cultured pearl elephants – China and Japan – have battled each other since the first days of pearl-farming. Although Hong Kong is the present epicenter of pearl-processing, China leaped over Japan in becoming the world’s largest producer of Akoya pearls, the most popular cultured pearl, with more than 1,500 metric tons per year. Present day natural pearling is confined mostly to seas off Bahrain, with Australia also retaining one of the world’s last pearl diving fleets based on its northern coast.

Reports from the Statistics Department of Dubai World indicate that the value of the loose pearl trade in Dubai grew 324% from $6 to over $26 million from 20-07 to 2008. A strategic initiative of the Dubai government, The Dubai Multi Commodities Center (DMCC), provides the market infrastructure and platform for the precious stones industry in Dubai. In recent years, the DMCC has increasingly focused on reviving the pearl industry in its former motherland. One of its mega projects, Pearls of Dubai, will include pearl farms and focus entirely on cultivating pearls. The project is due in 2010. Ras El-Khaima (95km from Dubai) has pearl farms like Al-Rams pearl farming, but beside that there are hardly any pearl farms found in the Emirates. In addition to its elite natural pearl trade, Dubai’s government is looking to revive the old trade with pearl-culturing technology.

Goma’a Bin Al-Thaleth says that now it is nearly impossible to find a natural pearl in the Arabic Gulf because of pollution and oil drilling, “in my opinion the first and second Bahrain War had a significant negative impact on the oysters because of the oil discharges into the sea, the oysters stopped producing pearls, it is decreased by around 50% after the oil boom [in 1960s].” Bin Al-Thaleth adds that culturing pearls affected the historical reputation of the natural pearl, “it interferes with the heritage of this trade, and some countries like Bahrain attempted for a period of time to protect the rights of the natural pearl, prohibiting the trade of cultured pearls, but nowadays nobody really controls that.” Bahrain issued a legislative decree in 1991 that contained an article prohibiting cultured pearl trade with a one year jail penalty.

“The rarity of this trade dictates its nuances and price,” Mohamed Nasser says about the natural pearl trade in the UAE, which is made up of a network of experienced individuals connected together by word of mouth rather than by commercial platforms. The traders depend on their private pearl reservoirs from the bygone days, or import them from Bahrain, Kuwait, or the South Seas. “Now the pearl is not harvested anymore but rather circulated among around 10 pearl outlets (privately owned) in the Gulf,” asserts Mr. Nasser. “For instance in European cities you can count the outlets on your fingers.”

The scarcity of the natural pearl in the market catapults its price continuously, unlike cultured pearls, the price of which is decreasing. “The human element interfered in the process and now it is easy and cheap to have a cultured pearl if you want,” explains Mr. Nasser. Cultured pearl vendors in the malls tend to occasionally call them “practical pearls”.

The price difference is obvious in the market. While the price tag of a necklace of Australian saltwater cultured pearls, perfectly round with high luster, could reach more than a hundred thousand dollars, a similarly shaped and quality natural pearl necklace could be worth over a million. A customer can purchase a 3mm south sea cultured pearl necklace for $33.000 from Tanyaz jewelers or for $160.000 from Paspely Pearling Company. According to the grading system of pearl value (luster, shape, color, surface, and size) there is a variety in its price.

“We have a simple necklace for $2,700 to $4,000. However, a more complicated and high-quality piece could reach from $1.4 to $2 million,” says Mr. Nasser.

A proposito dell'autore

Da 20 anni Adriano Genisi si occupa di selezione, certificazione ed acquisto di perle coltivate nei paesi d’origine. Collabora stabilmente con importanti realtà produttive del settore gioielleria nel ruolo di consulente aziendale per gli acquisti e l’importazione diretta del prodotto.

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18 Risposte

    • Adriano

      Thanks for your commenet! I really hope to be helpfull and of course to have you back here on my blog

  1. Eron Blemberg

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  2. pauffexJeve

    I just couldn’t resist and want to thank you for this magnificent post.

  3. M T Online

    some truly marvelous work on behalf of the owner of this website , perfectly great content .

  4. Davide

    Buonasera Adriano.

    Bellissimo questo articolo che testimonia l’assoluta rarità delle perle naturali di acqua salata e di quelle del Golfo persico in particolare.

    Si sa che una singola “cozza” di acqua dolce è in grado di produrre parecchie decine di perle contemporaneamente, sul web ho trovato la notizia di una Perna sterna del Mare di Cortez che ha prodotto 121 perle naturali, vedi link:

    Hai per caso notizie di straordinarie produzioni analoghe da parte delle più classiche ostriche perlifere del genere “Pinctada”?

    Grazie per l’attenzione.

    Cordiali saluti.

    • Adriano

      buonasera Sonia,
      relativamente ad analoghe esperienze posso senz’altro anticiparle una “chicca” che ho avuto modo di verificare personalmente.
      Ho infatti conosciuto l’artefice del ritrovamento d’un ostrica che conteneva oltre 100 piccole perle naturali.
      Il ritrovamento è avvenuto qualche anno fa nei mari del golfo persico e a breve pubblicherò foto e video dell’ostrica in questione.

      Mi auguro di poterla avere ancora ospite qui sul mio blog e di soddisfare la sua curiosità con l’articolo che pubblicherò.

      a presto


  5. Lenore Gobeli

    Hello. I actually need to actually place a swift remark and let you grasp that I’ve been pursuing your internet page for quite some time. Keep up the very grand work and I will be looking again consistently relatively quickly.

  6. Sonia

    Buonasera Adriano,
    Mi è capitato di tornare sul suo bellissimo blog ed ho visto che ha pubblicato molti interessantissimi articoli, in particolare quelli sulle perle nere di Tahiti, sulle perle Soufflè, “Uomini e Perle”, sulle perle Akoia ed in particolare “Come si forma una perla”, li ho trovati molto affascinanti ed istruttivi.
    Non ho però trovato l’articolo che mi aveva annunciato del ritrovamento, nel Golfo Persico, di un’ostrica con oltre 100 piccole perle naturali.
    Forse sono io che non sono riuscita a trovarlo.
    Per favore mi può far sapere se lo ha pubblicato o se intende farlo a breve.
    p.s. Davide è mio marito.

    • Adriano

      Buonasera Sonia e ben tornata.
      A brevissimo avrà modo di leggere il post di cui mi accenna.
      Ancora qualche giorno di pazienza e sarà pubblicato.

      non capisco a quale Davide faccia riferimento…

  7. Sonia

    Buonasera Adriano,

    la ringrazio per la cortese risposta, in attesa del post continuerò a seguire il suo interessantissimo blog.

    Mio marito Davide aveva inserito il primo commento, a suo nome ma con la mia e-mail, sul suo blog e da li è nato il nostro contatto.

    A presto.


  8. Anonimo

    I’m usually to running a blog and i really respect your content. The article has actually peaks my interest. I am going to bookmark your site and keep checking for brand spanking new information.



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