The relationship between pearls and the Gulf stretches back thousands of years, demonstrating the profound effect these natural jewels can have on those who are fortunate enough to find them…
From antiquity to the present, pearls have always been highly important in the Gulf region, not only as a symbol for growing prosperity and nationhood, but also for their role in cultural ceremonies that shaped the identity of the Gulf people.
The history of pearling in the gulf can be traced back to the first century AD. This is evident from a historical pearling document famously written by a Roman scholar Pliny the Elder, quoting the pearls around Arabia on the Gulf are “specially praised” and were “the most perfect and exquisite of all others, be that they are gotten about Arabia.”
For centuries, nomadic traders, herdsmen and fishermen roamed the shores of the Gulf, becoming skilled and knowledgeable about the fruits of the seas. The occasional prize of discovering a beautiful pearl became an obsession and trading began inland as early as the Neolithic period. Long distance maritime trade networks were established and stretched from the pearl trading center, the Gulf to Persia, Basra to Istanbul and reaching into Western European countries. On the other side moving towards East covering India and all the way to Afghanistan and China.
As history states Julfar, now known as Ras Al Khaimah, emerged as one of the most important pearling centers, due to its geographical location between the pearls banks and Hormuz.
Gasparo Balbi, the Venetian court jeweller, famously declared that in 1580 the best pearls were to be found in Julfar. Hence from the beginning of the 17th century, Julfar became a dominant political centre in the Gulf and was well known for its output of the best quality of pearls.
The Gulf, therefore, became known as the pearling centre of the ancient world, as communities progressed with their understanding and their ability to source and harvest the pearl beds. By the early 20th century, the Gulf was supplying up to eighty per cent of the world’s pearls, with European jewellers, like Cartier, coming straight to source for their supplies. This boom period saw nearly 74,000 crew and divers in 4,500 boats fishing the banks of the Gulf every year.
Yet like all boom periods, the Gulf’s rise to pearling success was brought to an end; the effects of the First World War on global markets, a slump in demand for pearl jewellery, and the rise of sophisticated cultured pearls all signalled the beginning of the downturn for the Gulf natural pearl industry.
The Al Suwaidi Family Legacy
Abdulla Al Suwaidi’s Family, the Al Suwaidi’s are intrinsically linked to the history of pearling era in the Gulf, dating back to 12th and 13th centuries and belonging to the Julfar dynasty. Pearling was embedded in the culture and the traditions of everyday life of the Julfar villages, the birthplace of Abdulla’s ancestors.
The family background traces back to life in the Gulf region that has been entwined with the jewel of the ocean for over 7000 years. His ancestors carried on with pearling for generations leading finally to the 20th century with his grandfather Mohammed Bin Abdulla Al-Suwaidi as being one of the last remaining pearl divers of Al Suwaidi legacy. For centuries, many of diver’s families dedicated their lives to pearls diving as it was the main means of living and generating wealth.
Abdulla Al Suwaidi is determined to grow and protect the legacy of Arabian pearls for future generations, with the reintroduction of Arabian Pearls to the Gulf. Built on years of experience and planning, and driven by a desire to find a way for others to be able to share in his love and respect for Arabian pearls.
“The pearl’s lustre always enlightens my soul and mind, and the touch of pearls energise my whole being” – Abdulla Al Suwaidi