UAE: This expat family has been calling the Emirates home since 1948

They set up Dubai’s first jewellery shop, which has delivered custom-made jewellery to royals

by

Nandini Sircar

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Photos: Shihab/KT
Photos: Shihab/KT

Published: Tue 28 Nov 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Tue 28 Nov 2023, 11:11 PM

Suresh Laxmichand Shaholi possesses a gaze that hints at a reservoir of experience, perhaps cultivated since a tender age when he first ventured into the erstwhile Trucial States.

His foremost mentor has been his father, Laxmichand Mohanlal Shaholia, who arrived here in 1948 even before the UAE's inception. His father helped him acquire this wealth of wisdom that he amassed throughout his life’s journey even earning the moniker (Mahatma) ‘Gandhi’ among his peers, due to his traditional attire.

Suresh who arrived here at the age of 12, reminisced about the legacy of a former generation who established their roots here when his father set up Dubai’s first jewellery shop not far from the Gold Souk where he sat during a conversation with Khaleej Times on Tuesday.

Taking pride in the heritage, the septuagenarian said, “As we honour the 52nd National Day I must admit we owe so much to this wonderful country where our four generations have thrived.”

“I still remember, I journeyed by sea with my parents in a ship from Mumbai, previously known as Bombay,” added the long-term Indian expat.

‘My name was included in my mother’s passport’

During that period, people didn’t possess any individual passport, “Instead, my name was included in my mother’s passport,” added the Indian expat.

He was even enrolled in the inaugural school established by the veteran educators, the famous Varkey family in Bastakiya.

“I was among the first few students at their school. It was Madam Varkey who taught me,” said Suresh.

From the repository of his memories, he even recalls stories of how businessmen from Iran transported spices, textiles, and various goods, engaging in trade activities linking Gujarat to India and Iran.

“My father’s business partner informed him about the promising commercial prospects in this region. Consequently, both of them embarked on a journey to explore the area, recognising its potential. Additionally, during the 1960s, the discovery of oil further fuelled interest and spurred purchasing activities,” said the UAE resident who originally hails from Rajkot in Gujarat.

In his early years, after returning from school, Suresh spent several hours at the workshop, diligently learning the intricacies of the gold trade.

“As the eldest among my six brothers, I was one of the earliest to come here. My focus leaned toward jewellery design. During that time, all our jewellery was pre-ordered, and we boasted a dedicated clientele.”

“We even supplied custom-made pieces of jewellery to the Royals, including the mother of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai, in the bygone days. My father and his family would make these exquisite pieces of jewellery in their little workshop in the (then) Abra market in Bur Dubai. My father would then ask me to personally deliver these jewellery pieces to the Zabeel Palace.”

Single-digit trade licence

During the 1960s, Dubai emerged as a central hub for a flourishing gold trade, witnessing gold imports reaching £56 million in 1968.

The family not only got into jewellery manufacturing with the procurement of raw materials also done from India, but subsequent generations and their kin even ventured into modern retail. “After opening the first jewellery store in the Abra market, in the early 1960s, these shops started getting licensed. We have a record of a single-digit trade license of that time which is number 7 and our Post Box Number was 197. I still remember this,” he added.

Origins of Gold Souk

Talking about the origins of the Dubai Gold Souk which traces back to a modest bazaar near various other markets in the early 1900s, Divyesh Kumar Shaholia son of Suresh said local jewellers served as intermediaries for gold transactions within the region, particularly in the area, pre-dating the formation of the UAE.

“A comprehensive master plan emerged for the souk, unveiling an invitation to a select group of highly experienced traders that included my grandfather. Initially, the focus predominantly revolved around the Dhow's activities here." Then deliberations led to the decision to transform the place into a commercial hub which was already home to the traders.

"My grandfather had witnessed the blueprint of the (old) Gold Souk. It was subsequently presented at the Majlis to Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the former ruler of Dubai. Upon his endorsement, the area underwent design modifications, starting with a few shops, eventually evolving toward a grander vision.”

Although Divyesh has moved away from precious metals trading and taken on a different mantle, he said, “My cousins still have their jewellery stores at the Deira Gold Souk, in Sharjah and Fujairah,” said the 44-year-old.

The family expanded into jewellery and closed down the workshop business due to swiftly changing circumstances and the emergence of new players in the industry.

Home-bound women

Sitting beside her husband, an unassuming 66-year-old lady shed light on the life of women in those times. “We were a family of 100 people once upon a time and we lived in the Meena Bazaar area across several villas. Our husbands went to work. But the women were mostly home-bound and we enjoyed living together. Dubai was very different from what it is today, life was simple,” said Kundanbala Suresh Shaholia.

She highlighted women hardly ventured out due to safety issues. “After Bur Dubai, if you moved towards the Dubai Creek, it was all desert. The World Trade Centre was built only in 1985. As soon as you got out of this area, what is now Sheikh Zayed Road, used to be mostly pitch dark all the way to Abu Dhabi.”

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