Persian Gulf Pearl Farming

Persian Gulf Pearl Farming

The pearl industry once dominated the business sector in the Gulf. During the 1930s, however, it ground to a halt after a technique developed by Kokichi Mikimoto in Japan to culture pearls made it much cheaper to export high quality pearls during the Great Depression. For 80 years, the pearl industry was moribund in the Gulf. Today, Mr. Suwaidi along with his brother Abdulla al Suwaidi and a Japanese business partner are managing the Middle East’s first pearl culture farm.

RAK Pearl Holding, which has been selling pearls to royalty in the Gulf over the last five years, is trying to revive the Gulf’s pearl industry. Whereas divers used to find natural pearls in one out of 100 oyster shells, the success rate is nearly 80 percent with pearl culturing. The company cultures about 40,000 pearls a year, each costing between 1,000 dirhams to 20,000 dirhams, or $270 to $5,450, depending on shape, size, luster and color.

Ten percent of pearls are deemed of remarkably high quality and are sold to wholesalers such as Mouawad jewelers, the Lebanese team behind the world’s most expensive handbag and brassiere, selling for $3.8 million and $11 million, respectively.

Their pearls are also used to make exquisite jewelry pieces in-house. On his Blackberry, Mohamed al Suwaidi displays a picture of a floral necklace presented to the wife of Ras al-Khaimah’s ruler that took six months to make and included 70 pearls of the highest quality as well as diamonds.

“For the last five years, we focused on pearl farming, but this year we have expanded to include an in-house workshop and manufacturing site, so we can make our own designs,” he said.

Back on land, Mr. Suwaidi walks to a small office near the water, where a man in glasses and a blue cap who everyone refers to as “Captain” is culturing pearls at a desk with a magnifying glass.

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