Jasem Ali Mohammad cleaning a pearl using traditional tools Image Credit: Atiq-ur-Rehman/XPRESS

Sharjah: Cleopatra adored them as did Elizabeth Taylor, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Coco Chanel. Here in the UAE, however, it’s an Emirati man who’s taking the love for pearls to new heights.

Meet Jasem Ali Mohammad, 46, who claims to be the country’s biggest collector of pearls and artefacts with around 100 items worth over half a million dirhams. While some were purchased from souqs for a premium, others were painstakingly sourced over the years from Emirati homes across the country, says the resident of Sharjah.

“All that you see today is a result of my passionate work for over three decades.”

“The total worth of the collectibles could be much more, but I’ve never put a price tag to many of my choicest items like the one carat blue pearl there that can fetch Dh100,000,” he says pointing to the mini museum he spends curating almost full-time. “It’s another thing that I will never part with that gem. I will not even give it to my wife,” he chuckles, picking up the gift he received from a fellow collector in Kuwait.

First plunge

“I was 16 when I took my first plunge deep inside the waters of the Gulf in the hope of making a big discovery. For me it was a natural progression having seen my father and uncles do the same.

“As I got drawn to pearling, I also started collecting old samples of sikin, (knife), mezan (balance) and misbah (lamp) to shape pearls just the way they did it in the old times. Sometimes it would keep me away from the family for days to craft the perfect sphere, but the joy of seeing the finished product at the end of that toil is amazing,” says the father of four who also counts a 14 carat pearl ring dating back to 1920 amongst his most precious possessions.

However, it’s not always about precious gems. Te former government employee is equally fond of his kitab alqanun, a law book he got from Kuwait. “Only a hundred copies of this book have ever been printed and it was one of the earliest texts that summarised the then laws of the land including those related to pearling,” gleams Mohammad whose only ‘commercial plan’ in the future, he says, is to manufacture pearl cream and pearl powder in large quantities.

As of now, the ardent fan of Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan and Indian music (Malayalam songs in particular), is happy growing his private collection.

“I will take with both hands ... coins or anything to do with the Arab world from those times when pearling was the norm of the day,” says Mohammad who is also an amateur numismatist with a booty of coins issued in and around the region from 1838 to 2016.