By Anjum Cave
Al-Rams is a picturesque fishing village and natural creek, located in Ras Al-Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates. It was at one time a pearling village and was where, just over 15 years ago, Abdulla Rashid Al-Suwaidi established Suwaidi Pearl Farm, the sole farm for cultivating pearls in the Middle Eastern Gulf.
Abdulla comes from a family of natural pearl divers and traders, long based in the UAE.
The region has had a long and rich tradition of yielding some of the finest natural pearls.
Traditional pearl sourcing over centuries involved divers seeking pearls from ocean molluscs, known as ‘natural’ pearls. Natural pearls grow naturally, without any human intervention, and are very rare and costly.
‘Cultured’ pearls are grown in molluscs by human intervention in specialist farms, nurtured over several years and then harvested.
It was the disruptive advent of ‘cultured’ pearls in the early 20th century, driven mainly by Japan, that impacted demand for ‘natural’ pearls.
The new cultured pearl industry yielded pearls efficiently and cost effectively, and at a commercial level was fuelled by global jewellery demand.
The demand for natural pearls from the region fell sharply by the mid-20th century and led to the collapse of the pearl diving industry and the decline of the Suwaidi family’s pearl business.
However, the 21st century signalled a different era for pearling in the region.
In founding the Suwaidi Pearl farm, Abdulla embraced the ‘cultured’ pearl business, and by doing so, brought back to the fore the story of the region’s pearling heritage.
To Abdulla, harmony and balance with the environment are at the core of his commercial practice.
His pearl farm tours have shown his commitment to operating responsibly.
The farm uses solar panels and business practices to protect the marine environment and biodiversity.
Abdulla says, “I have a symbiotic relationship with pearls and, for me, pearls symbolize wisdom.
“It’s truly an organic gem and was, in the past, the subject of many myths and legends.
“Pearls are the mystical treasure of the earth and represent purity, generosity, integrity, and loyalty among the people who have them.
“Therefore, the history and legacy of my ancestors and their intimate relationship with pearls have inspired me, and made me who I am, whilst my high esteem for these oceanic gems has driven me to secure their heritage and future.”
Suwaidi pearls have been sought after by local and international fine jewellers to incorporate into collections such as Stephen Webster, Ornella Iannuzzi, Sarah Ho, and royal private collections in the region.
A private commission for the jewellery house Mouawad resulted in the creation of the Flower of Immortality Suite – a necklace, earrings, bracelet, and ring, created using diamonds, emeralds and Suwaidi pearls.
Mouawad Flower of Immortality Suite