The International Pearl Festival

By Judith Serrao, Team Mangalorean, UAE

Abu Dhabi Jan 10: The Abu Dhabi Culture and Heritage Authority has organized a 49 day International Pearl Festival at the Cultural Foundation in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E. The Pearl Festival,  the first of its kind, opened on 10th December, 2006 and will run till the end of February.  It is proposed to hold this festival every two years in Abu Dhabi.  It is hosted by the Abu Dhabi Culture and Heritage Authority in collaboration with the American Museum of National History, the National Museum of Bahrain, the Pearl Laboratory of Bahrain and the Museum of Oman.


A galaxy of world’s premier pearl jewelers are participating in the event and rare collections of natural pearls are on display at the festival.

Abu Dhabi has been selected as the venue for the festival as Pearls have always been a part of the UAE’s heritage and the festival aims at restoring Abu Dhabi’s status as a leading global hub for pearl trade and restoring a genuine part of its heritage of the pre-oil era when Pearls formed the main source of income.


The festival will not only display and exhibit pearls, but also have conferences, films, seminars,  workshops, book launches and a charity auction organized by Christie’s.  All proceeds of a planned charity auction will go to the UAE Red Crescent Society (RCS).


Also on display are some of the tools used by pearl divers,  models of ancient and modern boats used for pearl collecting,  models of pearl farms,  pearls used by royalty,  altar cloths, royal vestments, utensils dotted with pearls, oysters, mollusks, carvings done on oyster shells,  buttons made from pearls, pearls from various countries and all the ABC’s regarding pearls. 


The mystery and allure of pearls have spanned the history of time. The pearl is the oldest known gemstone and for centuries it was considered the most valuable. To ancient cultures, the pearls were a symbol of the moon which imbibed it with magical properties for prosperity and long life. Over the centuries, pearls have represented the physical representation of divinity, the ideal gift for royalty. Many cultures also view the pearl as a sign of purity and innocence.


Throughout time, the pearl has been revered, often associated with the power to influence love, success, happiness. The lovely gem is also associated with the virtues of modesty, chastity and purity. Roman women often wore pearls to sleep, believing in the power of the pearl to generate sweet dreams.

The very versatile pearl works well with any style, from adding a dash of class to sports and casual wear, adding a bit of polish to a business suit or undeniable elegance to evening wear.


The luster of the pearl is the essence which gives the pearl it’s glow. The luster is judged by the sharpness and intensity of images reflected from the pearl’s surface and the underlying iridescence of the pearl’s colors.


Some of the most common natural colors of pearl are:

  • White body color with silver, pink, green and yellow overtones.

  • Cream body color with yellow, pink, green and gold overtones or a combination of colors. These pearls are generally less expensive that white with good overtones. Cream body color is also referred to as Champaign pearls.

  • Light pink body color with pink, yellow, and gold overtones, or a combination of colors. A underlying pink body color will bring the highest prices of all light toned pearls. When buying pearls that are pink based, one should beware that many pearls with a pink base are artificially dyed. The basic rule is that the darker the pink body color, the more likely it is to be dyed.

  • Yellow body color with pink, yellow, green and silver overtones, or a combination of colors. Although the yellow body color is the least popular of the pearl colors, it is the most readily available. Very few of the yellow based pearls are dyed since it is considered a lower quality pearl.

  • Blue body color with silver, blue, green, red or gold overtones, or a combination of colors. These dark pearls are highly prized for the brilliance of the overtones. They are often called silver or grey pearls. The color is often caused by contaminants in the water which becomes trapped in the nacre.

  • Black body color with silver, blue, green, red or gold overtones. The true black pearl is harvested only from the black lip oyster. These are often referred to as Tahitian Black Pearls. The size can be a clue as to whether the pearls are a natural color or dyed and/or irradiated. True black pearls are generally 8 mm or larger.


All pearls which are the by product of an oyster or mollusk are real or genuine pearls. In the case of a natural pearl, the oyster or mollusk secretes layers of protective, pearly substance consisting of CaC03, water and conchiolin called nacre around an irritant. This may be a particle of shell, a piece of clay, a pebble. Sometimes the irritant is a living substance such as a small fish, crab, snail or worm. Although most people believe that pearls are created from a grain of sand, when in fact extensive testing shows that most natural pearls are formed around a minute parasitic worm which works its way into the oyster or mollusk.

In order to wear the label of a natural pearl, the pearl must be harvested from open water, either salt or freshwater.


A cultured pearl is created when an irritant is introduced to the oyster or mollusk by man, and farmed in a controlled environment. In freshwater pearls, this irritant is usually pieces of mantle which is a membranous tissue which secretes nacre and lines the inner surface of the shell. In saltwater cultured pearls, the irritant is usually a small shell or mother of pearl bead nucleus with a bit of mantle.


Artificial, imitation or faux pearls come in many grades. From very inexpensive plastic beads painted with pearlized paint. These beads come in an infinite rainbow of colors.


The Event Calendar of Festival:

  1. The Opening of the Festival
  2. "Pearls: A natural History",  a film and seminar organized by the American Museum of natural History.
  3. Gulf Pearls Exhibition
  4. Gulf Pearl Films. The pearl fisheries in the Arabian Gulf: glimpses from the past and promises for future 
  5. Film and seminar and expo on pearl producing mollusks, freshwater pearls of the world, Grading quality of Tahitian Cultured Pearls, The pearl oyster: wealth of the sea, Cultured Pearl: past, present and future,  pearl identification,
  6. A Seminar and Workshop Entitled "World of Pearls"
  7. Conference and Expo: The Allure of Pearls
  8. Book Launch "Pearls and Merchants of the Gulf"
  9. Charity Auction, organized by Christie’s
  10. Speakers will give talks on

    • Pearls of Wisdom ?Past, present and future of Pearls in the Gulf.
    • Tracing Treasures- narrative on history of some of the most famous pearl pieces.
    • Pearls in Modern Fashion-Role pearls played for fashion icons
    • The Pearl : An Artist’s Muse ? Painters, poets, novelists alike have been captivated by pearls.  The secret behind this intrigue
    • Beyond Decorative Jewelry – Throughout history, pearls and mother of pearl have been known for their functional properties in medicine and cosmetics. They have also been a point of departure in architecture and furniture design