Al Suwaidi’s pearl farm in Ras al Khaimah has produced pearls for some of the world’s top jewellery houses
the trade when he opened a cultured pearl farm in Ras al Khaimah in 2004. “But there was also the joy that came from opening a shell and getting a pearl. I got this passion from my grandfather. Since I was 13 years old, I have been thinking about making this a success. It is my social and cultural responsibility.” While Arabian pearls cultured by Al Suwaidi have graced collections created by major international jewellery houses, including Van Cleef and Arpels and Mouawad, the project has been held back by funding issues. Running a pearl farm is expensive, with the oysters and the water they live in requiring constant cultivation to create the perfect environment to deliver the best pearls. Al Suwaidi’s company, Arabian Pearl Holdings, has received funding from the government in Ras Al Khaimah and is currently in talks with investors to reinforce its coffers. But an investment in a tourism project at the site of the farm that failed to take off took its toll and lengthy expansion plans to open a sister farm in the Red Sea had to be put on hold due to the current conflict in Yemen. At its most productive the farm was turning out 40,000 pearls a year and employed 17 people. This has since dropped to 5,000 pearls a year and a staff of five as the business accumulated a substantial stockpile.
But Al Suwaidi has plans for his Arabian pearls and next year could be the tipping point in his scheme to rebuild what he likes to call the Pearl Road—an international trading route for pearls that once again places the Middle East firmly at its centre. As well as establishing two Arabian Pearl Holdings wholesale jewellery brands—one prestige, one mid-market—Al Suwaidi has linked up with London-based jewellery designers including Stephen Webster, Leo de Vroomen and Tomasz Donocik to collaborate on trendsetting designs incorporating Arabian pearls. The project has seen two designs released to date and is being coordinated by the company’s marketing director Alex Gregory-Peake, who has previously worked with The Tanzanite Foundation, Boucheron, Harrods and Swarovski. “My eyes are not only on Europe,” says Al Suwaidi, who notes that today’s Pearl Road would be a much more globalised affair than the linear lines of the route of old, flagging the US as a particularly important market for pearls. “China, Australia and even Japan are new to pearling but we are different. We have been doing it for thousands of years. The founders of brands owned by companies like Richemont and LVMH used to travel by camels for thousands of miles to get to the traders here.”
“Since I was 13 years old, I have been thinking about making this a success. It is my social and cultural responsibility”
2016 MAY / JUNE