Mother of All Pearls on Display in Capital

ABU DHABI — Khaled Al Sayegh walks very slowly as he carries in his hands this ‘Beauty and the beast’, an extraordinary jewel, just renamed after Shaikha Fatima bint Mubarak 
Al Nahyan.

By (Silvia Radan)

Published: Tue 26 Jan 2010, 10:51 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 2:37 PM

Among the world’s largest, ‘Danat Al Shaikha Fatima’ is a natural baroque pearl, measuring 10.2 cm in length, with a 15.2 cm circumference and weighing 171.3 grams. The blue-hued pearl is encrusted in the chest and torso of a golden Centaur, a half man, half horse Greek mythological creature.

‘Danat Al Shaikha Fatima’ will be part of a permanent pearl exhibition at the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi, put together by the Pearl Revival Committee (PRC).

In the words of Al Sayegh, chairman of PRC, visitors will be able to “view collections of some of the world’s rarest and most beautiful pearls”.

One such collection belongs to K C Bell, an American gemologist who spent half his life travelling the world in search of pearls. “Pearls first brought me to the Gulf some 20 years ago. It was the greatest marketplace for pearls,” said Bell.

To start with, he will display individual pearls and pearl necklaces at the Emirates Palace, but later on Bell plans to add to this display some of his oldest, fossil pearls, which pre-date mankind. “My latest passion is for fossil pearls of three million or more years old and later this year I will bring some to the exhibition in Abu Dhabi,” promised Bell.

PRC also announced on Sunday a new partnership with the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), to set new standards for pearl testing and authentication across the region. Using its testing facilities, GIA will issue certificates that will authenticate pearls as either natural or synthetic.

“This is an important step in safeguarding the integrity of the pearl trade, as it will help to protect the interests of people wishing to buy pearls,” explained Al Sayegh. His organisation has been involved in reviving the interest in Gulf pearls heritage for five years now.

Before oil, natural pearls were the biggest trade of Abu Dhabi, eventually brought to a halt by the Japanese production of cultured pearls. “The biggest pearl found in Gulf waters was Hope, which is now in the British Museum of Natural History. It was actually found in Abu Dhabi waters,” revealed Al Sayegh.

A white drop-shaped pearl of 1,800 grains (113 grams), Hope is one of the largest saltwater pearls in existence, first acquired by Henry Philip Hope in the 19th century.

Considered a national treasure, pearl hunting is illegal in the UAE, but rumor has it that pearl diving will start again as early as this year around Delma Island, under strict rules and supervision.

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