Pearls & Jewels of the Gulf, a collaboration between L’École Van Cleef & Arpels and Cultural Engineering, sheds lights on the history and aesthetic pertaining to pearl diving and jewelery making in the Gulf.
Photo and video archives, objects and artefacts, pearls, jewelery sets and publications invite you to go back in time and discover why pearls are regarded as treasures in the Gulf. Resulting from hazardous and debilitationg journeys, the nacre gems played a pivotal role in the local economies before the discovery of oil and resulted into socio-cultural ramification, extending to long lasting relationships between East and West. In addition, the pearls played a key role in shaping the jewelry culture in the region.
THE PEARL COAST
Reffered to as the Great Peal Bank Barrier, the ridge between Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain is known for large-sized pearls. Its warm and shallow waters attract rich deposits of calcium carbonate, accumulating within oysters to give birth to the nacre gems. The sought-after quality of the pearls attracts divers from Yemen, the Indian Ocean islands, Africa and Oman. By the mid-19th century, most of the Gulf pearls are exported to Mumbai, and journey onwards to Europe and North America, converting Abu Dhabi’s coast, into a meeting point between East and West.
The journeys to harvest the pearls are long and tedious. Pearls diving boats and their crews head to the pearl banks off the coast between Sharjah and Bahrain, for months at a time. The cold diving season starts in April and lasts until the month of June, which marks the start of the great diving season running until mid October.
Comprising 18 to 20 men, each pearl diving boat crew has a captain, assisted by a Mijadmi, ( ??) divers, pullers, trainee boys, a cook and a singer (Nahham), who is considered the most important member as his chants help motivate the entire crew while performing of facilitating divers.
The oysters collected are placed in a basket that is hung around a diver’s neck. Other diving tools help protect the divers and ease their work : nose pegs made of bone or wood keep their nostrils closed ; leather finger protectors prevent cuts from oyter shells and rocks on the seabed; a coton suit is worn during jelly fish season in June to avoid stings.
After being categorised based on their quality, the pearls are presented on a red cloth to the buyers. Proceeds from the sales are distributed between the captain and the rest of the crew, while the entrepreneur funding the boat and the journey receives the largest portion. Pearls from the region are exported to India, Persia and Turkey and sold in European and Chinese markets.
The value of a pearl is determined by the best combination of several criteria including size, lustre, colour, surface quality and shape. The weight is measured in carats while the size is indicated in millimetres. Lustre evaluates the sharpness of a pearl’s surface and its reflective quality, which results from the fineness and evenness of the nacre layers distorting and refracting light. Flawless surface and symmetrical shape are highly prized, together whith colourful hues akin to an oyster shell : silvery white, light pink and golden tones are the most sought after.
©The Pearl Museum in Dubai-UAE
PEARLS & JEWELS OF THE GULF at l’École Van Cleef & Arpels
Hai D3 – Dubai Design District until November 25th, 2017