The land of pearls

There’s more to Ras Al Khaimah than mountain biking and beaches. Rachel McArthur discovers the emirate is home to one of the UAE’s oldest and most interesting industries.

by Rachel McArthur

Although less developed than other parts of the UAE, Ras Al Khaimah is a popular destination for day/weekend trips thanks its diverse scenery and availability of adrenaline-pumping sports, plus off-road routes, suitable for all types of adventure lovers. But did you know it is also one of just five cities in the world that continues to commercially cultivate pearls?

Due to the fast development of the country, it is easy to forget about some of the most important industries that helped boost the UAE’s economy in the past. But less than a century ago, pearls contributed towards the income of many residents, as the UAE was home to some of the best pearls in the world. The region’s seabed, temperature and shallowness of the water provided perfect conditions for cultivation.

One of the most interesting tours currently offered in the emirate is the pearl excursion, which was launched following the opening of the Pearl Museum in September. Visitors to the excursion have the opportunity to witness how pearls are made from start to finish, as well as bag their own gem if lucky.

The History Of Pearls
The pearl tour starts off with a stop to a pearl lab, where visitors get a first-hand glimpse into how pearls are cultivated. A certified pearl specialist conducts a brief session on the history of pearls, as well as how they’re made, before giving a demonstration of how seeds are delicately implanted into baby oysters, which can then grow into beautiful pearls.

Pearl Farm
Once the session is complete, it’s off to the pearl farm to see how the oysters are homed during the cultivation process. The journey to the pearl farm is spectacular as all excursions take place with a dhow cruise around the Creek offering splendid views of the historical island of Hulaylah.

Here is where all the action happens. Hundreds of oyster nets are planted down in the sea and are kept for a period of 12 months – the time it takes for an average oyster to make a pearl. The process is really interesting as you’ll get to see where the baby oysters will be spending the next year of their life. You’ll also get the opportunity to see oysters that have already completed a 12-month cycle. The divers fetch a net during the cruise, and every participant is given an oyster to open – and if you find a pearl inside, you actually get to keep it!

The specialist on board will help remove the pearl from the oyster using a number of techniques, including cleaning with salt and water. Finally, he will be able to take you through the history of your gem – identifying colour and size, as well as other valuable information. Before returning to land, everyone is treated to lunch with a fantastic spread of Japanese delicacies. Then it’s back to the city for the final part of the tour.

The Pearl Museum
Located in the heart of the city, and surrounded by the beautiful scenery of Al Qawasim Corniche, the Pearl Museum is a must visit for anyone interested in the history of the UAE. Here is where visitors learn about the extensive history of pearling, and get an overview of the industry in the Arabian Gulf and Japan.
The two-floor museum takes guests on an interesting journey through the decades of the industry. The ground floor focuses on the history of pearling in the Arabian Gulf, and pearl trading between different countries in the past. A collection of ancient tools and equipment is also on display, including a map drawn by a French geographer in 1740 showing Julfar (Ras Al Khaimah’s old name) with the locations of the various pearl banks, plus a model of a medium-sized jalbout, a boat that was used in the past for diving journeys.

Everyone is then taken up to the next floor where the focus is on the technology of cultured pearls, theories on the origin of natural pearls, along with a guide on how to differentiate between various kinds of pearls.

This excursion is perfect for anyone who has an interest in the history of the UAE, as well as those who collect pearl jewellery. It is also useful for those looking to invest in pearls in the future. The information you learn can help you decide which type of jewellery to go for – plus teach you how to not get ripped off by sellers in the process!

For more information about upcoming excursions, as well as timings, call 07 227 7088 or visit (LINK) Ras Al Khaimah is about an hour’s drive away from Dubai. Take Emirates Road, and follow the road signs to Sharjah until you see the road signs to Ras Al Khaimah. Then drive straight until you find the Ras Al Khaimah roundabout, which indicates the entry to the emirate. And why not take the time to check out what else the city has to offer? Explorer’s Ras Al Khaimah Mini-map features a number of ideas for things you can do while there.

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