Legacy of Bahrain’s historic pearl industry highlighted during 2019 CIBJO Congress opening

ABOVE: The panel discussion, chaired by DANAT CEO Noora Jamsheer, which highlighted the natural pearl revival plan supported by the government of Bahrain, during the opening session of the 2019 CIBJO Congress on November 18, 2019.

NOVEMBER 19, 2019

The 2019 CIBJO Congress kicked off at the Four Seasons Hotel in Manama, Bahrain, on November 18 under the patronage of His Royal Highness Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa who is the country’s Prime Minister. The three-day conference opened to a packed hall and heard about Bahrain’s historic pearl industry.

The guests of honour at the opening included HE Shaikh Khalid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa, Deputy Prime Minister; and Chairman of Mumtalakat, Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund which owns the congress host, DANAT; HE Jawad Al Arayedh, Deputy Prime Minister; HE Wael Al Mubarak, Minister of Electricity and Water Affairs; HE Shaikh Fahad bin Abdulrahman Al Khalifa, Director General, Office of the First Deputy Prime Minister.

Khalid Al Rumaihi, CEO, of Mumtalakat, Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund, said that that it established DANAT, Bahrain’s Institute for Pearls and Gemstones in 2017 as part of country’s effort to diversify the economy through the revival of the 5,000-year-old pearling sector, ending the reliance on oil.

He spoke of Bahrain’s pearl history going back thousands of years and which was a central part of the country’s heritage. He described how it had been an important source of trade from Roman times until the start of the 20th century. Bahrain and the Gulf region had been the only stable supplier to world markets despite oyster fishing starting elsewhere.

In the 1920s, Bahrain’s population was 74,000 and 20,000 people were involved in the pearling economy. However, it came to standstill in the 1930s due to the development of cultured pearl industry in other countries and the country’s shift to an oil-dependant economy.

Yaser Alsharifi, Chairman of the Board of Directors of DANAT, welcomed CIBJO and its global jewellery trade experts for staging this year’s congress.

He spoke about the pearling history of the last 4,000 years and Bahrain’s plan to preserve the pearl history by education, research and using innovative technologies. “Bahrain and CIBJO can work together to preserve the pearling industry. As leaders of the industry, we are at the forefront of ensuring sustainable responsibility and a legacy for the coming generations,” he said.

CIBJO President Gaetano Cavalieri said that Bahrain, just like Colombia where the 2018 Congress was held, also has a long jewellery legacy. Bahrain has the world’s longest operating jewellery trade due to its history dating back to Neolithic times.

Dr. Cavalieri spoke about the changes that have taken place at CIBJO where, almost 20 years ago, members were distinguished jewellers, but mostly European, male and middle-aged and older. “The resemblance between them and the industry we claimed to represent was becoming increasingly vague. What I said then was, if we were not prepared to change, and become more like the jewellery industry as it existed at the turn of the 21st century, we were destined to become irrelevant and possibly obsolete.

“Nineteen years later, if you look around you, you cannot help noticing that CIBJO is more reflective of the industry that we serve. There are still Europeans in the room, as there should be, but also Indians, Chinese, Arabs, Africans, Australians, Pacific Islanders and North and South Americans. There also are more women, but not as many as there should be. We have improved certainly, but still not achieved perfection.

“CIBJO, which is the most important body in the industry providing terminology that is understood in the same way by everybody, and creates rules and standards that are common across the globe, is the common thread that keeps us all together. Not only is CIBJO relevant, but in our evolving industry it is more relevant than ever. But for CIBJO to remain relevant we also have had to ensure that the range of subjects on our agenda reflect the most important challenges facing our industry.”

Delivering a keynote address, Professor Enrico Giovanni from the University of Rome’s Department of Economics and Finance, who is a former Minister of Labour in Italy and was a senior official at the OECD. He gave a comprehensive overview of economic trends, including population growth and the pressure that this creates on limited resources, and how they are affecting climate change.

“We have seen population numbers rise continuously,” he said. “This translates into pressures on governments and industry to raise production of food and other products. Unfortunately, this comes at a great cost in terms of the effect on the world’s climate and we are seeing the price that is being extracted.”

“We live in a world overflowing with people where the emphasis is on raising GDP, consumption and economic activity, but this is leading the world towards increasing instability, depletion of natural resources and a degrading environment, while developing nations are still aiming to lift people from poverty. We have to find a way of fitting in these competing claims while still working to achieve the UN’s sustainable development goals,” he said.

Comparing the pearl legacy of Bahrain with Colombia’s emerald industry, Charles Burgess, President of EMS, owner of the Muzo mines in  Colombia, spoke about the 2018 CIBJO Congress in Bogota. He gave an overview of the emerald industry in Colombia in the past and the changes that have taken place through the work of his company and others.

“What pearls are for Bahrain, emeralds are for Colombia., Mr. Burgess said.

“We do not only mine the emeralds, but also have state-of-the-art gem cutting and polishing facilities. The importance of transparency and traceability cannot be overstated. When we arrived there 10 years ago, there were problems of violence, workers not being paid, poverty, damage to the environment, a human cost with no public services or steady employment.”

“We realised we couldn’t operate in this way. Buyers want information about the gems and the way workers live and any environmental costs.

“Common sense and good business practices guided us. As a result, we have never had any problems with government or local authorities. We have modern labour methods, formal employment structures in the area, no cash transactions due to drugs industry and money laundering, mine to market traceability, taxes and royalties paid in full, and the local community is a full partner and we have changed social conditions for the better,” he concluded.

Hanifa Mezoui, AICESIS (the International Association of Economic and Social Councils and Similar Institutions) Permanent Representative to UN and ECOSOC spoke about the importance of Bahrain’s pearl trade. Bahrain has been an active member of the UN’s work for human development and was 43rd out of 189 countries.

“People living in poverty in Bahrain is zero and they are entitled to a wide range of basic services.”

She added that CIBJO has shown great commitment to sustainable development by its work with ECOSOC, especially in the protection of seas and land.

Ahmed Bin Sulayem, Executive Chairman DMCC, spoke about the work of the UAE in the Kimberley Process, especially when he was Chair in 2016 and travelled widely throughout Africa discovering the specific issues affecting African diamond producers.

He said that cultured pearls have also been a challenge to the UAE, which also has  sought to diversify its economy.

Ernie Blom, President of the World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB) spoke about CIBJO’s commitment to the entire spectrum of the jewellery industry – from precious metals, diamonds and gemstones to marketing, ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility and much more.

Mr. Blom also mentioned “the close cooperation between the WFDB and CIBJO that has proven to be so valuable, especially in recent years regarding our united stand on various challenges facing the industry. In light of the questionable advertising of the lab-grown diamond manufacturers in recent times, I believe that the necessity for us to work together has never been greater so that we can counter these claims and prevent consumer confusion regarding synthetics and diamonds. I have the greatest respect for CIBJO’s work, and I know that Gaetano feels the same way about the WFDB. We see eye-to-eye on the leading issues of our times and that allows us to enjoy close cooperation.”

By |2019-12-01T08:29:45+00:00November 19th, 2019|NEWS|Comments Off on Legacy of Bahrain’s historic pearl industry highlighted during 2019 CIBJO Congress opening
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