From ancient times, quality pearls were found in the waters of Arabian Gulf. The ancient pearling industry provided the only real income for the people of UAE. The land was too barren to allow any farming and the people were generally too concerned with finding water, food and other provisions to consider trying to make money. The barter system was their way of trading. A few families would leave the nomadic desert lifestyle and settle on the coast to fish. Some of the fishermen probably found the occasional pearl when wading in the shallows, and kept it until there was an opportunity to barter it. A large population of ancient UAE depended fully on pearl diving to find their daily living and fortune.

Pearl oysters occur naturally on relatively shallow banks (fasht) in the Gulf. However, it is not clear when the people of the Emirates first began to harvest this valuable resource: individual pearls have been found in excavations on archaeological sites that date back to at least 7000 years ago. The Arab writer Al Idrisi mentions that in 1154 Julfar, in Ra’s al-Khaimah, was already a major pearling centre. Other historical accounts indicate that Julfar’s fame had spread far and wide.

To gather enough oysters to make a living, however, required a huge communal effort, as well as people who were able to dive to depths of around 40 meters without equipment, in order to access the offshore oyster beds. Natural pearls are the cultural asset of UAE, and can be the most important testimonial of its cultural heritage with consideration to the people, the craft and their ancient life style.

The trade of natural pearls in Dubai has witnessed a ten-fold monetary growth in recent years, driven by imports through Australia and India. Re-exports to newer markets, including Bahrain, Hong Kong and Switzerland has added to this achievement largely. The cultured pearl trade in Dubai has been driven through imports from Australia, China and Hong Kong, along with re-exports to a variety of diverse markets such as Japan, Lebanon, Switzerland and Hong Kong and Australia etc.

In the year 2011, Dubai hosted the sale of the world’s largest pearl – a drop-shaped natural pearl weighing 59.92 carats (the weight of a Dhs1 coin). It was sold for a value as high as AED 934,842.

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