The Pearls of Our Lives

“My mother loved pearls.”

“During my college vacations, I returned home to Ramallah.  We sat together at her dining room table, stringing pearls and talking about my life in the US,” said Lina, Juman Pearls’ designer, to the gathered women.

We were at the Anamil 296 Gallery to hear women artists describe where they found their inspiration.

“I got married and moved to Saudi Arabia.  My finance studies were, how shall I put it? Not wasted, but I did not get the opportunities I wanted.  After a tearful visit, my mother sent me home with a bag of pearls.  She said pearls saved her life after my father died, perhaps they could help me.”

Pearl by pearl, Lina sorted through her bag to design pieces inspired by the particular pearl’s luster.  Working with eastern-province goldsmiths, she created jewelry she imagined elegant women, like her mother, Wedad, would wear.  With each sale, her confidence grew.

Together the mother and daughter traveled to Hong Kong to bargain for cultured-pearls, diamonds and other gems.  Wedad loved stringing pearls, while Lina loved designing.  Their “pearling business” grew and before they knew it, they needed an official name.  They named their company Juman Pearls, after Lina’s only daughter.

Since antiquity, legends say within each pearl was life – everlasting life.

Gilgamesh, British royalty and Jacque Cartier found their way to Bahrain, the land of two seas where the tiny, high-quality, juman, pearls were found.

Bahraini Pearls at Qal at al-Bahrain UNESCO World Heritage Site

“The pearls round Arabia on the Persian Gulf…are specially praised,” wrote the Roman, Pliny the Elder.

By the 1930s, pearl buyers flocked to Japan for Mikimoto’s less expensive, cultured pearls, and the Bahrain pearl divers lost their livelihood. Today 95% of cultured pearls come from China.  Rumor has it, the Japanese have returned to the island in search of Bahrain’s now-elusive, natural pearls.

Like other pearl merchants, Lina eventually made her way to Bahrain.  And as life happens on the island, one day, while she drafted designs, she discovered she sat side-by-side with Bahrain’s preeminent, pearl trader, Mahmood Pearls.

“Your designs are wonderful,” she was told.  “Could you create a line for us featuring Bahraini pearls?”

Lina was thrilled to be invited to build a collection around such legends.

She confided to our group that day, “I never knew how expensive Bahraini pearls were.  And now, after so many oyster beds have been reclaimed, few pearls are big enough to make into necklaces.  A single-strand, pearl necklace is about $40,000.”

No wonder the pearl trader only gave his wife one.

“On a gold chain around her neck, she wore a round white pearl, a gift from his father; it shone like the moon in the night sky.” from The Little Pearl Merchant.

Mahmood Pearls will be debuting Lina’s designs at Jewelry Arabia.  Perhaps you will find your own moon, wrapped in gold, to hang from your neck.


Since the 1990s, Juman Pearls has found favor with Saudi Arabia’s high-end buyers who seek unique pieces that are not mass-marketed.  Lina also designs for expatriates who are tired of the traditional, 22K gold bangles and want more up-scale treasures.

For the first time, Juman Pearl’s designs will be for sale in Bahrain.  In conjunction with Mahmood Pearls, one of the oldest jewelry companies in Bahrain, Lina created the Arabesque collection with Bahraini pearls set in gold.

Juman Pearl’s showroom is at Desert Designs in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia.  The entire Arabesque Collection, featuring cultured pearls set in gold, is on display at the showroom.  The website is


The biggest jewelry show in the Middle East starts November 19th at the Bahrain Exhibition Center.  Look for Al-Mahmood Pearls.


Getting Ready for the New Chapter

November 14th will be the start of the new Islamic year; January 1st for the West; the Chinese Year of the Snake in February; but September 1st is the first day of my new year.

The end of summer vacation signals the final chapter of a yearlong story.

September begins with a week-long adjustment to the eleven hour time difference.  Between naps, suitcases are unpacked, name tags ironed into new uniforms, emails are returned, the annual closet cleaning takes place and, if I am lucky, the mess on my desk disappears.

Among the books and papers, a copy of SAYIDATY, Saudi Arabia’s Vogue equivalent, lay buried.

Thumbing through the pages, I remembered reading the magazine back in the summer of 2008.  As I poured over the celebrities and fashion exposes, I noticed EVERYONE was wearing leggings.  Even Dior’s Barbie-doll models wore them on the runways.

Silly me – for a moment I forgot where I was.

The women were not wearing leggings; the editors were self-censoring and had photoshopped the offending appendages, covering them in black.

What a change.  “Before”, every magazine that arrived in the kingdom was reviewed by a legion of men with black markers.  Photos of women used to look like this:

Or the page was completely ripped out.

The fact that photos of women with “leggings” and bare arms are allowed is progress.

Shway, shway – slowly, slowly – as we say.

Today I prayed “Please God, Continue to Bless Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, with good health and wise leadership.”

Ferrari Red

Vanity Fair writer Kurt Anderson argued the appearance of the world has hardly changed at all over the past two decades.  One reason is before the 1990s, factories were smaller and each decade’s goods had a distinct iconic style.  Over the past twenty years, businesses have invested in huge factories and production lines that are continually put at risk if consumer tastes change radically.

To be unique requires handcrafting.

On a small island like Bahrain, wherever you go, you will see at least three people you know.  Stylish people strive to be different.  Many design their own clothing and have the village tailor stitch it up.  And the million-dollar home owner can easily pimp his car at the auto shop next door.

Yet even stylish Bahrainis are not immune from the global corporate-style culture.

Only in Bahrain have I seen a hand-crafted, Ferrari Red

silk cowboy hat,

thobe and

Rolls Royce.


Tales by Chapter

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