Abu Dhabi pearls are a beautiful and significant reminder of the city’s ancient pearling industry, the city’s main source of income prior to 1930. During this time, many families would leave the desert for a coastal lifestyle where the most exquisite pearls could be found by men diving up to 40 metres deep without equipment in the Arabian Gulf waters.
During the worldwide economic depression of the 1930s, Abu Dhabi’s pearling industry was heading for non-existence, but the discovery of oil some two decades later saved the economy and brought the pearl trade back to life.
Pearls occur when an oyster tries to disperse a foreign object by coating it with tiny layers of calcium carbonate in crystalline form. In natural surroundings, only one pearl is found in approximately every 10,000 oysters. For this reason, today there are cultured pearl farms (where a pearl is created by manually placing a shell bead inside an oyster).
A pearl’s value will always be determined by a combination of factors, including size, colour, lustre, shape and surface quality. Pearls are weighed in carats and measured in millimetres and the bigger the pearl, the more valuable it is likely to be. The most common and valuable shapes in pearls are spherical, but tear- and pear-shaped pearls are also popular.
The ‘lustre’ of a pearl refers to its sheen. The higher the lustre, the shinier and more mirror-like it will be. A low lustre pearl will appear matte and chalky and thus be less desirable. The surface quality of a pearl refers to its ﬂaws – a pearl with ﬂaws will generally be lower in value. Coloured pearls (as opposed to those that are plain white) are the most highly prized, particularly those with silver, pink or gold tints.