In the city of Dubai, there lies a hidden gem – well, technically, an entire trove of them. Tucked away in Deira, in the headquarters of Emirates National Bank, lies the Dubai Pearl Museum. It is a one-of-a-kind attraction celebrating the UAE’s pearl-diving heritage.
Before the oil boom hit the UAE, the area was known for the beautiful natural pearls that could be found in the warm, shallow waters along the coast. Pearl diving and trading represented a huge part of the national economy. Ali Bin Abdullah Al Owais was a pearl trader who hailed from the Al Shamsi tribe of Sharjah. His son, Sultan Ali Al Owais, chose to pursue a career in international banking instead. Furthermore he retained his family’s love for pearls and continued to add to the family collection. Eventually, he donated his collection to the bank where he served as chairman, and so the Pearl Museum was inaugurated.
Where is the Pearl Museum Located?
Today, the Pearl Museum lies on the 15th floor of the Emirates National Bank headquarters. It houses one of the world’s most exquisite collection of saltwater pearls. The display is absolutely stunning and the trip to the museum is worth it just to glimpse that level of luxury.
However, the Pearl Museum does not exist just to show off wealth and splendor. Pearls and pearl diving play a vital role in Dubai’s history and culture, and the Pearl Museum explores the many facets related to that. Some of the interesting facets explored in the museum include:
The Lives Of The Pearl Divers:
The Pearl Museum explores everything from life on the boats (dhows) to the actual diving activity. Such information helps you truly get a feel for what life was like for these divers - both the challenges they faced on the harsh seas and the techniques they used to keep their spirits up. For instance, did you know every pearl diving dhow was staffed with its own musician? Or that pearl divers began their training at the tender age of ten?
The Pearl Economy:
Before the discovery of oil in Dubai, pearls were the most important part of the national economy. The museum describes the business of pearl trading in Dubai, including how the traders made their deals and where the pearls were most frequently exported.
If you’d like to be a connoisseur of pearls, the museum can teach you everything you need to know. You’ll learn how to pick out the most valuable pearls based on their size, weight, shape, color, and luster. You’ll also learn how to tell cultured pearls from genuine seawater pearls.
In Dubai, pearls were primarily used as a vehicle for trade. So, they were not always set into necklaces, bracelets or rings. However, pearls are actually well suited for use in jewelry as they can be used ‘as-found’ – there is no need to do any cutting to add shine or luster. The museum is host to some dazzling pieces that show off the luxurious pearls to their best advantage.
How To Get There:
The Pearl Museum is not like other museums in Dubai. There are no set hours of operation. If you want to visit, you can’t just walk up to the front desk at Emirates National Bank and purchase a ticket. Instead, you have to contact the museum in advance and they will arrange a showing for you with a guide. This procedure allows them to ensure the safety of their valuable display, as well as that of the other bank assets.
The Pearl Museum can be contacted through this form. However, the museum prefers to open its doors to small groups of around 8-10 people. If your group doesn’t meet that number, you might try contacting the team at Dubai by Foot and we can work to connect you with others looking to visit the museum. Our tours explore the Old Dubai area where the museum is located quite thoroughly, so we’d be happy to help you get there.
Today, pearls are no longer the bedrock of Dubai’s economy. The growing popularity of cultured pearls combined with Dubai’s oil boom means that their economic importance has faded. However, they are still important from a historical, cultural and aesthetic perspective. This museum is a great way to explore this central part of Dubai’s heritage and marvel at the beauty of these water-dwelling gems.