The brand that put ‘Chocolate diamonds’ on the map has fallen hard for cultured pearls.Continue reading
The brand that put ‘Chocolate diamonds’ on the map has fallen hard for cultured pearls.Continue reading
The seasoned jewelry industry expert digs into her lustrous role, which requires her to spread the message of beautiful and rare Bahraini natural pearls.
Noora Jamsheer joined Danat Institute in Bahrain as CEO in 2019, eager to share her country’s own storied treasure trove of natural pearls and history. To wit, she immersed herself in the world of pearl oysters, divers, and dealers, making new friends with Bahraini families like the Al Mahmoods, who have a long history of buying natural pearls from the country’s many divers. Below, the trained diamond expert (she is an IGI Belgium- and GIA-trained grader) sheds light on gemological laboratory Danat, the natural pearl industry in Bahrain, and “bolstering the reputation of the Kingdom as a leading center for gemstone expertise,” she explains.
Why is Danat important to Bahraini natural pearls?
In 2017, the Government of Bahrain launched the National Plan to Revive the Pearl Sector. The plan consisted of initiatives such as the enlisting of the pearl beds in Bahrain as a protected zone, the enlisting of the pearl path in Muharraq as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the formation of a leading international pearl testing laboratory.
To the trade, Danat is important because it is close to the pearl markets and it provides testing services for all types, shapes, and sizes of pearls. It provides sorting services, certification services, and grading services for pearls. Moreover, the lab has access to a huge database of pearls from different origins, and this allows the lab to differentiate between different types of pearls, origins, and treatments.
What is the name of the oyster in which Bahraini natural pearls grow?
The majority and the most beautiful pearls in Bahrain come from an oyster species called Pinctada radiata. Of course, there are other oysters found in Bahraini waters, such as Pinctada margaritifera, Pteria, and Pinna species, which all produce pearls, but Bahrain is mainly known for pearls from the Pinctada radiata species. The most common colors of Bahraini pearls are white, light cream, cream, light yellow, and yellow, with some pink and green overtones. Some other colors can be produced, such as brown, black, and grey. The luster of Bahraini pearls is incomparable, and pearls from Bahrain have been highly sought after for centuries, a fact documented by visits of merchants like Jacques Cartier.
What makes Bahrain and its surrounding waters so special and robust for pearl growth?
Pearl formation is a result of an irritation and/or infection within a pearl oyster. In general, Bahraini waters are characterized for being shallow, with high temperatures (located in the hottest sea on the planet), and are amongst the most saline worldwide. This combination of shallow water, high temperatures, and high salinity creates the ideal condition for pearl oysters to produce pearls. High salinity and temperatures are well-known stress influencers for marine organisms, thereby reducing their natural defense capacity (lowers their immunity), making them more prone/susceptible to pathogenic parasites which cause infections within oysters. In addition, pearl oyster populations in Bahrain exist in a safe haven that allows them to reproduce and thrive due to the low presence of natural competition and predators.
The formation rate of pearls in Bahraini waters is thought to be higher relative to other seas/oceans and mollusk species yet Bahraini pearls are still very scarce.
Cultured pearls are grown and collected by farmers worldwide, but how are Bahraini natural pearls found?
Pearl diving is an active market and an activity regulated by the Department of Fisheries and monitored in collaboration with the Kingdom of Bahrain’s Coast Guard. Divers are required to be licensed and to complete an educational program that is organized by the Supreme Council for the Environment about sustainable pearling practices. Pearl divers’ licenses are valid for one year. Tourists can even partake in pearl diving trips through regulated dive centers and are limited to collecting 60 oysters per trip.
Bahraini pearls can be bought from the licensed pearl divers, from merchants within the country, or through estate sources.
[Editor’s Note: See “Bahrain Looks to Put Natural Pearls on the Map” in the January 2020 issue of Rapaport for more information.]
Noora Jamsheer, CEO of Danat Institute in Bahrain
Natural Bahraini pearls
Diving for natural Bahraini pearls
Russian-born Liza Urla debuted her Gemologue.com platform in 2009 while still a student at GIA in New York City, and its popularity has mushroomed alongside her love of pearls. “It was still early days for bloggers—‘influencers’ weren’t yet a thing,” she explains. Still, the digital jewelry platform took root as a place to celebrate fine jewelry of all kinds, including pearls.
“I absolutely adore pearls, because they are one of nature's most beautiful embellishments,” she continues. “I often incorporate them into my looks—be it either a pearl face, a pearl-encrusted kokoshnik, pearl shoulders, pearl corset, or a headdress made entirely of pearls!”
Below, the busy creative opens up about her love of the organic gem and some of her most innovative pearl projects.
Why do you love pearls?
Pearls excite me because of my upbringing in Russia: they are in my DNA. I feel pearls are for women everywhere a celebration of self-love that can instantly put a confident smile and a luminescent glow of delight on their faces! Since I launched Gemologue.com, my aim has always been to raise awareness about pearls, change the perception about pearl designer jewelry, and help pearl farms worldwide, particularly the pearl farms’ ongoing struggle to keep water clean, as oysters require clean water to produce pearls.
In what year was your “Pearl Face” idea born?
My first pearl makeup look, created by me and applied by Julia Flit, an artist and a London-based professional jewelry photographer, was born in 2015 during London Fashion Week. The look was inspired by ancient Egypt and was my way of self-expression and paying homage to one of my favorite gems. I love to show that pearls are not old-fashioned. On the contrary! Pearls are a highlight of contemporary jewelry design! My #jewelleryface pearl makeup went viral and was included in several best-dressed lists by Elle Italia, Le21eme, Glamour, and others.
Then at a JCK Luxury show, I wore pearl headwear inspired by Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was a continuity of my London Fashion Week pearl makeup and was followed by a pearl kokoshnik (traditional Russian headwear), pearl gloves, and pearl hair during an edition of Jewellery Arabia Bahrain.
You can watch the pearl face process online.
What are your favorite types of pearls and why?
Natural pearls. During my work trips to the Middle East, I learned that the pearl has always been a symbol of luxury, but for Bahrain it has always had a much deeper meaning. Representing the tradition, cultures, and heritage of the Kingdom, the natural pearl holds a special place in the fabric of Bahrain’s history.
I also admire and collect South Sea and Tahitian cultured pearls. Personally, my concern is what types of pearls are here to stay? I would love to see more of the South Sea and Tahitian pearls become more en vogue.
What are some of your other favorite pearl projects?
I created a gem and pearl crossword series as a gift to my followers (download it here), and run occasional jewelry and pearl giveaways, such as when I partnered up with Bahraini jewelry designer Azza Fine Jewellery, for a natural pearl jewel giveaway during an edition of Jewellery Arabia Bahrain. I also opened a Gem Photo School with my good friend and professional jewelry photographer Julia Flit. We debuted it in 2020 during the global pandemic lockdown as the jewelry industry shifted to a more online retail focus. Now more than ever, pearl jewelry photography needs to be unique, eye-catching, and above all, creative.
Tell us about your book, Gemologue: Street Jewellery Styles & Styling Tips.
Gemologue Jewellery Street Styles & Styling Tips is a unique book, because it focuses solely on jewelry street style. When I started Gemologue, it was the only digital platform focusing on jewelry street style rather than fashion. The book features eye-catching and inspirational photographs, including costume, tribal, and fine pearl jewelry, and of course, my pearl face. Find it on Amazon.
Having been involved in the Tahitian pearl industry for more than 50 years, Robert Wan is a name synonymous with black pearls. Wan was born in Tahiti, the son of a Chinese businessman who moved to French Polynesia at the turn of the 20th century.
Wan invested in Mangareva, the largest of the Gambier islands, in the early 1970s before buying it from Tahitian pearl pioneer Jean-Claude Brouillet 10 years later. Wan has never stopped investing in the business of black pearls—a fact for which devotees are thankful. The most significant markets for Wan’s finished jewelry sales are the United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, and Tahiti, while loose pearl sales are abundant in China, Hong Kong, and Japan.
Today, the crown jewel of his operations is the South Marutea atoll in the Tuamotu group of islands in French Polynesia. Insiders speak highly of the pearls from that area, and European jewelry brand Gellner unveiled a Marutea-branded jewelry line, in partnership with Wan, earlier this year.
Below, Wan dishes more on his beloved gem and adding an important virtual aspect to sales.
Why do you love Tahitian pearls?
I have centered my life around black pearls since we discovered them in the early 1970s. Given that it is the only Polynesian gem, we ought to love it. I also love the social aspect—getting to meet interesting individuals along the journey. The springboard of the industry was around the 1980s, but it accelerated in the 1990s. Unfortunately, every crisis has affected the pearl industry, so we have frequently looked for solutions. This means reinvention to move forward.
Tell me about your farm operations.
We have two farms, one in the Tuamotu archipelago and the other in the Gambier islands. I employed about 700 people in the 1990s, 300 in the 2000s, and now they are short of 200 due to the [coronavirus] crisis. We had to reduce our costs as a tough decision amid Covid-19. The Chinese grafters have gone as low as the minimum (some were stranded in China because of Covid). It is good to have enough inventory to take us through the season and more for future demands.
Our pearl family is built on the fact that I treat all my employees with appreciation, trust, and respect. This gives them a sense of belonging, which forms the motivation for their excellent work. I have also poured a lot of effort and dedication into every project, plus I always have the determination to create gorgeous jewelry and flawless pearls. These, too, raise the bar of excellence among my employees.
How do your farms differ from others in Tahiti?
Climatic conditions under which our pearls are created differ from anything else in the world. The waters in the South Marutea atoll are 50 meters deep and are rich in minerals for the oyster beds, creating an ample environment for crafting and flourishing the pearls. They have a sensational quality, are rich in color, and quite large in size. Our pearls come in different shapes and sizes as the environment favors the complexity of Tahitian pearls. We harbor our expertise in high-quality and big-sized pearls, ranging from 15 mm to 17 mm. The round shapes account for at least 40 percent of total production.
Tell me about your virtual pearl auctions.
Although there are currently no physical auctions due to the deteriorating health situation, we have opened up a virtual alternative to regular house buyers and provided a platform for new stakeholders. We had two sessions this year, one in June and another in October. Such a move emphasizes the importance of digital in business, and we aim to turn this platform into our central growth axis. Different buyers across the globe will have access to various pearls based on shapes, colors, sizes, luster, and quality in one click and a fast onboarding/registration process. [Live auctions in Tahiti and Hong Kong will resume when Covid-19 restrictions ease.]
We need to sell our products, savoir-faire, and credibility globally, rightfully. It is no doubt that Tahitian pearls are fascinating, plus their elegance is unique in terms of luster and colors. They are a gem, and the work was worth it.
Manila, Philippines. Sept. 27, 2019. Now in its 40th year of operation, Jewelmer, grower of some of the most gorgeous golden pearls in the world, opens up to the Cultured Pearl Association of America about its history, its jewelry, and that stunning store it opened in Palm Beach, Fla., last year.Continue reading