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AN ARABIAN GEM Abdulla al Suwaidi has come up with innovative ways to revive the UAE’s pearl farming industry BY RACHAEL TAYLOR

This all, however, came to an abrupt halt in the 1920s when the Arabian pearl industry, which was still relying on the lottery of men diving into the ocean in search of wild oysters, was superseded by Japan’s culturing techniques that used a farm of oysters impregnated with irritants guaranteed to make them produce a pearl almost every time. This lost chapter of the Emirates’ cultural identity was never far from the mind of Abdulla Al Suwaidi, whose grandfather was one of the last Arabic pearl divers to make his living through the incredibly dangerous voyages on pearling boats. “All I heard when I was a child was about the suffering of my ancestors,” says Al Suwaidi, who kickstarted a one-man mission to revive

Photography by Jerry Balloch

or thousands of years the Arabian Gulf was the beating heart of the global pearl trade. Just like the precious fabrics travelling out to the world on the Silk Road in the northern hemisphere, the sub-aqueous gems unearthed from the Gulf formed their own important trade route in the southern hemisphere, flowing through the hands of traders in India, Basra and Istanbul to reach European royalty. This pearling legacy stretches back thousands of years—the world’s oldest pearl is Arabic, a 7,500-year-old gem found at a neolithic site in Umm al Quwain in 2012—and up until the 1950s the region was supplying more than 70 per cent of the world’s natural pearls.

Abdulla Al Suwaidi with his pearl collection


MAY / JUNE 2016

Global Citizen 32  

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