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.

Unlike Your Rolls Royce, Bahraini Pearls Are a Good Investment

From Left to Right - Yusuf bin Ahmed Kanoo, Salman Mattar, Jacques Cartier, Mugbil Al-Tbukair and a pearl expert

Like Jacques Cartier who came to Bahrain in 1921 looking for pearls, the Japanese have recently been to Bahrain on a pearl quest Dr. Ali Safar confided to us.

Dr. Safar, the Director of the Precious Metals and Gemstone Testing Laboratory in Bahrain, was the key note speaker at a Pearl lecture I attended last week.

Why? Today 95% of the pearls sold worldwide are cultivated in China.  Even the Japanese who created the cultured pearl industry have given up against the Chinese onslaught.  The only market the Japanese can afford to compete in today are pearls larger than 8mm.

Not to denigrate the quality of cultured pearls, for as Dr. Safar said, “experts with a lot of experience” have difficulty differentiating between a cultured pearl and a natural pearl.  The real difference between natural and cultured pearls is its essence – was it created naturally, by chance, or has man manipulated nature in his laboratory for commerce.

Bahraini pearls have not only worn by royalty but “al haka” or extremely small pearls that cannot be drilled are crushed and eaten or used in cosmetics because they are believed to hold the secret to immortality.

Bahraini pearls prized status as “Jiwan” (perfect pearls) began 5,000 years ago when the ancient Sumerians wrote about the two-thirds divine, one-third human, King of Ur, Gilgamesh.

Gilgamesh after losing his beloved friend, the wild man Enkidu, began to worry about his own mortality.  He decided to search for Utnapishtim the survivor of the Great Flood to whom the Gods had bestowed immortality.  Gilgamesh traveled to Dilmun (Bahrain) where Utnapishtim and his family lived.  After some negotiation, Utnapishtim told him the flower (the pearl) of immortality lay at the bottom of the sea.  Gilgamesh dove down deep and found the pearl.  But when he fell asleep, a snake swallowed it.

The Epic of Gilgamesh gave Bahraini pearls a special magic.  But the reason they are the rarest natural pearls in the world is because of the unique natural phenomenon in the Gulf where fresh water springs burst out into the salt water.  Unfortunately even Paradise can only support so many people.  The seemingly endless fresh water supply has been nearly used up by modern people and industry.  Like the rest of the world’s oceans, the Gulf’s sea beds are polluted and have been diminished by government land reclamation.

Similar to diamonds, a pearl’s value is based on its luster, color, shape and size.  The larger the pearl, the more valuable it is.  The Bahraini pearl’s incredible luster is based on its unique habitat.  In Bahrain where Indian traders dominate pearl wholesaling, pearl descriptions are in Hindi.  The Indian scale starts with perfect pearls or Jiwan which means beauty.

“Everyone wants Jiwan but they are very rare,” Dr. Safar assured us.

Shireen is next, meaning “sweet” or having very good luster.

Gholwah means “round pearls” or average.

Badlah means irregular shape.

Sihteet are poor to average luster.

Khaka is kaka – in every language I guess – or the lowest quality.

Bahraini pearls range up to twelve different colors depending on the mollusks.   A local diver said she noticed the pearl’s color was dependent on where it formed with the pearl’s body.

“Mollusks are like people,” said Dr. Safar.  “Some are white and some are yellow.”

In the Gulf region, the mahar mollusks produce the nabati pearls, cream with a reddish hue, which are favored among the Gulf people.  The abyadh (white) and gallabi (white with a strong iridescence) are popular with other buyers.  The zinni mollusks found in the shallow waters produce the rare colored, more expensive, pearls.

Pearl buying is like buying a used-car.

“If the salesman figures out what you like, you might pay 1,000 dinars when other people will only pay 100.  This is life,” counseled Dr. Safar.

The only way to know how that creamy bit of calcium carbonate was created is to x-ray it – at the lab – after purchase.

Despite their small size, Dr. Safar assured us a double stranded, Bahraini pearl necklace was a better investment than a Rolls-Royce.

“A Roll’s value depreciates,” he said nodding at the two Saudis in their elegant thobes, “but a Bahraini pearl only increases in value.”

Since my blog hasn’t made me enough money to buy either a Rolls Royce or a pearl necklace, I am afraid I will have to wait until I reach Paradise where the Koran says the faithful will be adorned in pearls.

Hmmm, maybe I have a better chance finding that snake.


Tales by Chapter

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