RAS AL-KHAIMAH, United Arab Emirates — Long before the discovery of oil transformed the Gulf, pearls were the region's source of wealth, and pearl divers were a mainstay of the economy. Their way of life, however, was changed forever after Japanese researchers learned how to grow cultured pearls in 1930s.
Now a collaboration between pearl traders in Japan and the United Arab Emirates had brought oyster farming and cultured pearl harvests to the UAE for the first time. The joint venture of RAK Pearl Holding of Abdulla al-Suwaidi and Japanese pearl merchant Daiji Imura currently has 200,000 oysters and plans for further expansion.
The waters around Ras al-Khaimah, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) northeast of Dubai, have an ideal temperature, salinity and nutrients for cultured pearls. Imura said the Gulf cultured pearls are generally thicker than those in Japan.
In the wild, pearls are formed when an irritant gets into an oyster's shell, and the animal excretes layers of a substance known as nacre around it. To produce a cultured pearl, farmers introduce an artificial irritant to stimulate development.