Dubai is known for its oil riches and spectacular architecture, but it craves a return to its old glory, and the origin of its prosperity as the major producer of natural pearls.
In the past, pearl divers could hold their breath for two minutes and dive into the warm waters of the Gulf for the aquatic gems. The lucrative trade was based on these “amphibious” men. Many died and many got rich. It was a time when a pearl was more expensive than gold – a time when the Gulf was the world's pearl trade epicenter with $4 million revenue a year at the start of the 20th century.
In the 1930s that industry was turned upside down overnight, leaving the country desperate, when cultured (technologically altered) pearls were introduced by the Japanese, meaning they were no longer rare. In the 1960s, the oil boom returned the Gulf people's interest to the sea, despite the value of natural pearls having fallen by 90%. But nowadays, while the pearl market is packed with cultured pearls from the Far East and West, natural pearls have returned to their throne, and an ambitious Dubai is attempting to revive the 3000-year-old pearl trade with an eye on the multibillion dollar natural and cultured pearl market.