With a dynasty that dates back to the 1800s, the Emirati Al Fardan family has evolved from being merchants to helping save the Gulf region’s natural pearl legacy
As the pearl necklace is slowly revealed, it is met with a collective gasp from those with the good fortune to be in its presence. It’s the first time this necklace, bedecked with pearls dating back more than a century, has been photographed. In the Jumeirah residence of the renowned and very private jeweler Hasan Al Fardan of the UAE’s Al Fardan pearl dynasty, the small crowd gathers. It has been no mean feat to get approval for this particular piece to be included in the pictures – hours of careful negotiation with Hasan and his son Adi Al Fardan finally resulted in access at the last minute. The delicate, low-hanging treasure, with its seven strands of cream-colored natural pearls, was meticulously engineered to drape gently from the neck and decorate the décolletage, with two emerald pendants adorned with diamonds set in white gold. The finale is the wondrous and sizeable gem – a pearl the family believes to be more than 100 years old.
The beauty of this piece is magnified tenfold and the eye-watering price tag (estimated at AED14 million) justified when you take into account the workmanship involved in finding, extracting, and perfecting a single natural pearl. It’s for this reason that 87-year-old Hasan is so hesitant in showing – and even selling – the piece to anyone who isn’t as passionate about pearls as he is. He traveled the world for 20 years, sourcing natural pearls from China, India, and beyond to find matching pairs of beads to finally construct this design, which he completed four years ago.
Originally published in the May 2019 issue of Vogue Arabia
The necklace is part of a large collection of pearl jewelry that Hasan started building in the 1960s, shortly after his father, Ibrahim Al Fardan, passed away. Known fondly as the “pearl doctor,” Ibrahim was a master in the delicate art of sculpting the pearl, leaving it perfectly spherical. The Al Fardan family has been linked to the pearl industry since the early 1800s, but Ibrahim, and then Hasan, made it a household name for merchants bringing ships of pearls into the UAE during the industry booms of the 1850s and 1950s.
“He learned the trade from his own father,” explains Hasan. “He adored the industry and people would come to him for advice. The leading merchants were fond of his passion and expertise and many of his pearls were worn by royalty and aristocrats the world over. In those days, pearls were the main source of income for most people.” Although pearls were a lucrative commodity, the family was by no means wealthy. “I was born in 1931 and life in Dubai was difficult,” recalls Hasan. “It was a struggle to exist; food and water were scarce. I saw what my father did, how he worked, and I traveled the region with him. He was a well-respected pearl merchant – even after the decline of the pearl trade.”
Over-fishing and pollution led to the decline of the pearl industry, while the introduction of cultured, non-natural pearls from Japan sealed its fate. With the Gulf oil boom in the 1960s, the region shifted its financial interests away from pearls, and the family was forced to do the same. Hasan and his siblings’ knowledge of the sector meant the family diversified into other valuable gems – and so marked the start of the AlFardan Jewellery empire, as well as its interests in financial and real estate sectors. Yet Hasan never forgot his roots and continues the search for pearls to add to the current collection of more than 50 000 carats. His travel companion is his son Adi, the third generation of the Al Fardan pearl legacy, and who has been key in helping his father create the magnificent necklace. As well as sourcing pearls, Adi advises his father on sales to royal collectors in the Gulf region, India, and Europe, including the sale of the family’s most valuable pearl necklace for AED36 million a few years ago.
“I was 10 when I first saw my father with his knife working on a pearl, removing the deficiencies, and turning it into a gem,” remembers Adi, now 26. “From then, my father invested in educating me about this rare treasure. I would watch him mix and match the pearls with other gems and create masterpieces. My passion began to grow.”
Throughout his financial studies, Adi traveled the globe to train at top jewelry ateliers and learn everything about the art. Alongside his full-time banking job, he helps run the family business and also recently launched his own company, Adi Al Fardan Jewellery. “We specialize in one-off beautifully luxurious pieces, working with diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and sapphires,” he explains. He doesn’t work with pearls in his own lines but still travels with his father to source them for the family collection.
Today, the Al Fardan dynasty holds one of the world’s largest natural pearl collections. “The family name is well established but I still try to educate millennials about the importance of natural pearls,” says Adi, who is working to bring the history to a new audience through collaborations with elite brands and discussions with the UAE’s Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development on how to conserve this element of the country’s history.
“My father has always been very private about his work and has turned down numerous requests by the world’s leading museums to exhibit his collection,” Adi shares. “But I’m so proud of his achievements and am encouraging him where I can to let the public in a little.” This included allowing Rolls-Royce to exhibit a piece that carries one of the world’s largest freshwater pearls earlier this year in Dubai and, most recently, showcasing the emerald and pearl necklace as part of the Pearl Merchants exhibition for L’École Van Cleef & Arpels at Dubai Design District.