An old Arab legend tells that pearls are formed by dewdrops filled with moonlight felling into the ocean and being swallowed by oysters on the certain days of the moon. Although scientific reality is not so romantic, it is no wonder that pearls are fascinating jewels.
The known first pearl ornament, which is still on display in Louvre Museum, was found in a Persian queen’s sarcophagus who died in 520 B.C. Ancient Egyptians gave so importance to pearl that they even buried themselves with their pearls.
It is narrated that Cleopatra melted a pearl in vinegar and drink it. Moreover, pearl was a signature of status during Ancient Roman time. Wearing pearl in many European countries was banned I the past. Hunting pearls in Central America during the spread of the Europeans to New World has added fortune to fortune of the Europeans.
More’s the pity, the insatiability to the gems hunted in those seas resulted in the exhaustion of American pearl oyster population. In the early 1900s, pearls could only be obtained by the rich and the celebrities; with the invention of cultured pearls, everyone can easily find and buy this jewel. Pearl, the symbol of perfect beauty since the ancient ages, is admitted to be an ideal wedding gift because of being the symbol of purity and innocence.
Well; how do these precious gems form? Pearl is formed in a mollusc shell when external fragile rim of the shell is damaged by an attack of a fish, a parasite or another event and artificial nacre get in the mantle tissue, and the mantle tissue of the mollusc secretes nacre over the artificial nacre.
There are three kinds of pearl today: natural pearl, cultured pearl and imitation pearl. Although cultured pearl is not as precious as the natural one, it is indeed real pearl. Imitation pearls are cheap and made by covering the bead via solution made of fish scale.
To distinguish real pearl and imitation pearl, you can touch it and feel the temperature; real pearl is cold to touch for the first couple of seconds and fake pearl has the same room-temperature. Another way to distinguish them is “Tooth Test”; rub it on the front of your tooth. If it feels gritty or has resistance, it may be real.
TRADITIONAL PEARL HUNTING IN QATAR AND PERSIAN GULF
Throughout the history, the best pearls have been hunted in the Persian Gulf where Qatar is. At first these gulf’s pearls were being hunted by the divers breath holding. They were diving without a wetsuit any special dress but just with a simple equipment, and a nose clip facing dangers.
At the beginning of 19th century, rising pearl hunting with the demand by Europe and America took a knock when Japanese Kokichi Mikimoto ,who imagined to dress all the women’s necks with pearl, invented cultured pearls; and so the price of the pearl decreased.
Akoya Pearls produced produced in Japan are among the most expensive cultured pearls in the world. Traditional pearl hunting mostly finished during the Financial Crisis in 1930s, so pearl market has collapsed.
It is known that famine had occurred and there were deaths in Qatar and other pearl hunting Gulf Countries from this period to petrol was found. Today pearl hunting is mostly done as a hobby.
QATAR AND PEARL
Dhows used for pearl hunting in the past can be visited at Dhow Festival every November in Doha the capital of Qatar. You may talk to the current and past pearl hunter sailors coming from Gulf Countries, and listen to unimagined stories about pearl hunting which was the most important mean of living of the public. Also photographs, equipment, knickknack etc. in Katara Culture Village belonging to that period may take your attention.
You may understand how the Qatari pay attention to pearl when you see the Pearl Statue in a huge oyster while going to the city from the airport on the right after passing Qatar Islamic Art Museum. This statue is one of the most important symbols of Doha. Also the first pupil artificial city project is named as “The Pearl”. Qatar paying more attention to museums may open a museum on pearl and pearl hunting in the future.
I visited one example in Sur, Oman and was so impressed. Thinking that only one pearl can be found among 2000 oysters and pearl hunting is done between May and October when the sea temperature is higher, it would be a great pleasure to visit a museum which will take us to stories of these hunters worked for living in difficulties.