DUBAI, (Reuters) - Pearl hunting vanished from these desert coasts a century ago, but now lavish skycrapers and shopping malls are attracting cultured pearl sellers hoping to tap into deep pockets and renewed demand for the milky gems.
Jewelry is a booming business in Dubai, home to one of the region's biggest gold souks, and where flashes of gold, silver, gemstones and pearls can be seen from the folds of women's cloaks.
“They're classic, they don't date,” said Noor, an Emirati lady strolling through Dubai's Gold Souk. “In London, I have seen many young ladies wearing pearls, they're mixing them with ribbons and other jewellery.” Over a century ago, bronzed fishermen dove forty metres into.
the Persian Gulf's turquoise waters, hunting for pearls that provided the main source of income for people across shores from what is now the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain.
That industry was ruined after the Japanese invented a way to cultivate perfectly round pearls in early 1900s. Only later, did the discovery of oil help to transform sleepy fishing villages such as Abu Dhabi and Dubai into steel and glass centres of commerce.
Ambitious Dubai, which is turning itself into a shopping destination as much as finance and trade hub, has enticed top pearl producers into bringing their latest harvests to Dubai for the first commercial auction of its kind outside the Far East.
“Pearls are definitely making a comeback,” said Pierre Fallourd, assistant managing director of Jewelmar, one of the three producers who participated in the auction in January, where $35 million-$40 million worth of pearls were displayed.
Jewelmar, a major producer of South Sea pearls mainly found
off the northern coast of Australia, says Gulf demand could increasingly steal market share from other regions because of its higher purchasing power.
“We're aiming primarily for high end in the Middle East but even the middle class here is not the same with middle class elsewhere,” he said, particularly as the global recession hit developed economies harder than the emerging markets.
Along with Jewelmar, Robert Wan and Paspaley, the other top
global pearl producers brough their black, gold and white cultured pearls at the auction in January, hosted by the Dubai Multi Commodity Centre's (DMCC) landmark Almas Tower.