Dr Shihaan Larif &
Lareef A Samad B.Sc (Hons)
The largest nacreous pearl in the world, the Danat Sheikha Fathima bint Mubarak Pearl is a baroque, blister pearl of perhaps 16-17th century origin, set in a sculptural jewel of either 16-17th century Renaissance period or Renaissance revival period of the mid-19th century, from around 1840 to 1870. The pearl is incorporated as the torso of the Centaur, the Greek Mythological Creature, half man and half horse. The Centaur previously belonged to the private collection of an European family, and the enormous baroque pearl incorporated in it was unnamed. The Centaur sculptural jewel by an unknown jewelry designer of the Renaissance period, received internationl attention, when it was given on loan by its European owners to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) and became part of the traveling exhibition of the Museum, "Pearls : A Natural History" that toured the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, the United Arab Emirates and France for seven years from 2001 to 2008. While in the United Arab Emirates - a country with a pearling tradition, extending back to several millennia, and where concerted efforts have been made recently by the Pearl Revival Committee (PRC) headed by its energetic chairman, Khaled Al Sayegh, to revive interest in its pearling heritage and project Abu Dhabi as the world's capital of natural pearls - the Centaur with its incorporated enormous blister pearl, captured the attention of the Pearl Revival Committee of Abu Dhabi, who eventually negotiated its private sale for an unspecified amount from its previous European owners, and made it part of a permanent pearl exhibition at the Emirates Palace Hotel, in Abu Dhabi in January, 2010. The Pearl Revival Committee decided to name the previously untitled baroque blister pearl, the "Danat Shaikha Fatima Bint Mubarak Pearl" in honor of the Mother of the Nation, Her Highness Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak, Chairperson of General Women's Union (GWA) and Supreme Chairperson of the Family Development Foundation (FDF), for her unstinted support and co-operation to the committee in realizing its cherished objectives.
Centaur Sculptural Jewel of the Renaissance Period Incorporating the Danat Sheikha Fathima bint Mubarak Pearl as the Torso of the Human Form
Image Credit - Ahmed Kutty, Gulf News
The Danat Sheikha Fathima bint Mubarak Pearl is incorporated as the torso of the human anterior half of the Centaur, the Greek mythological creature. The enormous baroque blister pearl has a unique curved shape, that perhaps inspired the pre-conceived shape of a centaur in the finished jewel, in the fertile imagination of the creative late Renaissance jeweler of the 16th -17th centuries. When the pearl was removed from its Renaissance period setting by the GIA it was found to weigh an incredible 3,426.32 grains (856.58 carats), making it the largest nacreous pearl in the world (See table below). The dimensions of the pearl as determined by the GIA is 69.13 x 48.97 x 34.68 mm. The color of the pearl is a purplish brownish gray on its convex front, a feature that is easily recognized even in the photograph of the Centaur Sculptural Jewel above. On its concave back the color of the pearl is a dark gray to black. The characteristic tell-tale marks of a blister pearl is easily observed on the concave back of the pearl, where it was attached to the inner surface of the shell. Microradiographic analysis by GIA had shown the structure of the pearl to be banded throughout and not concentric, confirming the pearl as a natural blister pearl, that grew in contact with the inner surface of the shell from which it was retrieved.
Table of famous nacreous single pearls arranged in descending order of weight
|S/N||Name of Pearl||Weight in Carats and Grains||
Shape of Pearl
|Type of Pearl||Color of Pearl|
|1||Danat Sheikha Fathima bint Mubarak Pearl||856.58 carats, 3426.32 grains||Baroque||Saltwater, nacreous pearl||Convex front-Purplish brownish gray. Concave back- dark gray to black|
|2||Pearl of Asia||600 carats, 2,400 grains||Baroque, garden-egg shaped||Saltwater, nacreous pearl||White|
|3||Arco-Valley Pearl||575 carats, 2300 grains||Baroque||Saltwater, nacreous pearl||White|
|4||Big Pink Pearl||470 carats, 1,880 grains||Baroque||Saltwater, nacreous abalone pearl||Pink|
|5||Hope Pearl||450 carats, 1,800 grains||Baroque drop-shaped||Saltwater, nacreous pearl||White|
|6||Christopher Walling Abalone Pearl||187.5 carats, 750 grains||Horn shaped||Saltwater , nacreous pearl||Multi-colored|
|7||Imperial Hong Kong Pearl||127.5 carats, 510 grains||Irregular drop||Saltwater, nacreous pearl||White|
|8||Gogibus Pearl||126 carats, 504 grains||Pear-shaped drop||Saltwater, nacreous pearl||White|
|9||Shah Sofi Pearl||125 carats. 500 grains||Pear-shaped drop||Saltwater, nacreous perl||White|
|10||Survival Pearl||90.35 carats, 361.40 grains||Baroque||Freshwater, nacreous pearl||White|
|11||La Regente||75.67 carats, 302.68 grains||Pear-shaped drop||Saltwater, nacreous pearl||White|
|12||Pearl of Kuwait||64.35 carats, 257.40 grains||Asymmetrical drop-shape||Saltwater, nacreous pearl||White|
|13||Paspaley Pearl||60.94 carats, 243.76 grains||Perfectly spherical||Saltwater, nacreous, cultured pearl||White|
|14||Large natural freshwater nacreous pearl, that appeared at Christie's sale 7664 at Dubai||60.36 carats, 241.44 grains||Near-Spherical||Freshwater nacreous pearl||Yellowish- orange to pinkish-orange|
|15||Natural Grey/Brown Pearl||56.81 carats, 227.24 grains||Symmetrical drop-shape||Saltwater, nacreous pearl||Grey/Brown|
|La Peregrina (Original weight)||55.95 carats, 223.8 grains||Pear-shaped drop||Saltwater, nacreous pearl||White|
|16||Sara/Tavernier/Shaista Khan Pearl||55.0 carats, 220 grains||Drop-shaped||Saltwater, nacreous pearl||Gray|
|17||La Peregrina after drilling and polishing in 1913||50.96 carats, 203.84 grains||Pear-shaped drop||
Saltwater, nacreous pearl
|18||Peacock Throne Pearl||50 carats, 200 grains||Pear-shaped drop||Saltwater nacreous pearl||Yellow|
|19||Mancini Pearls||50 carats, 200 grains. 50 carats, 200 grains||Drop-shaped pearls||Saltwater nacreous||White|
|Moghul Pearls||45.5 carats, 182 grains. 45.5 carats, 182 grains||Pear-shaped drop||Saltwater nacreous pearls||White|
|21||Drexel Pearl||33.80 carats, 135.2 grains||Symmetrical drop-shape||Saltwater nacreous pearl||Black Tahitian|
|22||La Pelegrina one||33.29 carats, 133.16 grains||Pear-shaped drop||Saltwater, nacreous pearl||White|
|23||Charles II Pearl||32.5 carats, 130 grains||Pear-shaped drop||Saltwater, nacreous pearl||White|
|24||Tararequi Pearls||31 carats, 124 grains||Pear-shaped drop||Saltwater, nacreous||White|
|25||Bapst Pearls||113.75 grains, 113.25 grains||Perfectly spherical pearls||Saltwater nacreous pearls||White|
|26||La Pelegrina two||27.88 carats, 111.5 grains||Perfectly spherical pearl||Saltwater nacreous pearl||White|
|27||La Reine De Pearls||27.5 carats, 110 grains||Perfectly spherical pearl||Saltwater, nacreous pearl||White|
|28||Oviedo Pearl||26 carats, 104 grains||Perfectly spherical pearl||Saltwater, nacreous||White|
|29||Queen/Patterson Pearl||23.25 carats, 93 grains||Baroque||Freshwater, nacreous pearl||White|
|30||Paspaley Drop-shaped Pearls||18.75 carats, 75 grains. 18.75 carats, 75 grains||Drop-shaped pearls||Saltwater, nacreous pearl||White|
|31||Finest black pearl in Europe in 1900||12.25 carats, 49 grains||Pear-shaped drop pearl||Saltwater, nacreous pearl||Black pearl with green overtone|
The height of the Centaur Sculptural Jewel as determined by the GIA, is approximately 17 cm (170 mm) excluding the plinth on which three hoofs of the Centaur stand. Its width as measured from the tail to the outstretched front hoof is approximately 15.5 cm (150 mm). Excluding the torso of the human anterior half of the Centaur, the remaining parts such as the head and the hands of the human form and the horse-like posterior half are made of gold enamelled in certain regions with white, red, green and black enamel work. Some old-cut diamonds and foil-backed "red" corundum are set at various points of the Centaur. One such place is the girdle around the pearl, the girth of the man, set with old-cut diamonds and foil-backed "red" corundum.
© American Museum of Natural History
The saddle of the horse is removable and facilitates the setting and unsetting of the pearl. The plinth on which the Centaur is mounted is made of wood, and similarly decorated with old-cut diamonds and foil-backed red corundum around its sides.
The GIA Report on the enormous nacreous blister pearl concludes, "The Danat Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak Pearl is truly one of the natural wonders of the world."
The design of this sculptural jewel was inspired by the Greek mythological creatures, the Centaurs, a race of mythical creatures composed of part human and part horse, usually depicted with the torso of a human, joined at the waist to the horse's withers, where the horses neck would be. Centaurs are thought of in many Greek myths as wild as untamed horses, and were symbolic of chaos and unbridled passions. The conflict between Centaurs and Lapithae, two warring peoples who were cousins, due to their common ancestry from the sons of Ixion, is considered as a metaphor for the conflict between the lower appetites and civilized behavior in humankind, or a struggle between civilization and barbarism. In spite of the widespread belief in the existence of Centaurs in ancient times, a Greek philosopher in the first century B.C., Lucretius, denied their existence, based on a rational explanation comparing the growth rates of horses and animals. While at three years, when horses are in the prime of their life, humans are still little more than babies, making hybrid animals between the two impossible
Enlarged Left-Side View of the Human Anterior Half of the Centaur
Photo - Courtesy Pearl Revival Committee, Abu Dhabi
Enlarged Right-Side View of the Human Anterior Half of the Centaur
Photo - Courtesy Pearl Revival Committee, Abu Dhabi
The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, is the home to some of the finest surviving examples of sculptural pendants of the late Renaissance period that originated in Western European countries during the 16th and 17th centuries. During this period large quantities of irregular shaped baroque pearls accumulated among the stocks of pearl dealers, with no apparent use in traditional jewelry settings, and the dealers not knowing what to do with their accumulated stocks. It was then that the genius, inventiveness and skill of the late Renaissance jeweler, came up with a solution, in order to make use of these large, irregular-shaped, nacreous pearls, by incorporating them as the centerpiece of jewelry, which together with other gemstones, diamonds, gold and enameling, formed a pre-conceived shape, that bore fruit in the fertile imagination of the Renaissance jewelry craftsmen. This resulted in the production of a range of different "sculptural pendants" with various fancied shapes such as monsters, dragons, mermen, mermaids, and other mythical figures, as well as naturalistic shapes such as birds and animals and bunches of flowers and fruits. The ultimate shape of the pendant was determined by the shape of the baroque pearl that was incorporated as its centerpiece. Such pendants were worn by the royalty and aristocracy, not only as adornments, but also as amulets to ward off evil. Besides the baroque pearl, the gemstones used in the settings were cut as cabochons, and the diamonds were table-cut with few facets. The gemstones and diamonds were mounted deep in their settings. The enameling used on the pieces were very bright. A common motif seen in these sculptural pendants is the caravel (sailing ship), which was a reflection of interests in this age of great geographical discoveries, that witnessed the discovery of the New World.
In the mid-1800s, now known as the "Renaissance revival period," the jewelry designs of the Renaissance period, including sculptural pendants and other sculptural ornaments, made a brief come back. The "Renaissance revival period" started somewhere in the mid-1800s, but peaked in the 1860s and 1870s, during the mid or high Victorian period, also known as the Grand Period, because of the grand way in which gemstones and metals were used in the manufacture of jewelry. The discovery of gold in America and Australia, made available this precious metal in large quantities to jewelry designers, leading to the revival of ancient gold working techniques and designs, such as Etruscan, Egyptian, Classical and Renaissance styles. One of the sculptural pendants believed to have originated during this period in Italy, is the "Triton Pendant," which is now part of the collection of jewelry of the American Museum of Natural History.
The period and country of origin of this sculptural jewel is not exactly known, but according to our knowledge of such creations, we know that it could be a piece of the late Renaissance period from the 16th to 17th centuries, or Renaissance revival period of the mid-19th century, from around 1840 to 1870. The country of origin could be any one of the west European countries, like France, Spain, Netherlands, Bavaria and Florence, where the art of producing such sculptural jewels were perfected and prevalent during these periods. Florence in Italy was a important center of jewelry designing during this period, where the renowned sculptor and goldsmith, Benvenuto Cellini lived and worked. One of the well-known sculptural pendants ascribed to this master craftsman was the Canning Jewel, which is today part of the collection of the Victoria Albert Museum.
The Centaur previously belonged to the private collection of an European family, and was given on loan to the AMNH for its traveling exhibition between 2001 and 2008. Subsequently, the Centaur was purchased by the Pearl Revival Committee of Abu Dhabi and the hitherto untitled baroque blister pearl incorporated in it was named the Danat Sheikha Fathima bint Mubarak Pearl, in honor of Her Highness Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak, the Mother of the Nation, Chairperson of General Women's Union (GWA) and Supreme Chairperson of the Family Development Foundation (FDF). The Centaur incorporating the Danat Sheikha Fathima bint Mubarak Pearl, is now a prominent exhibit, in the permanent pearl exhibition at the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi.
The Centaur incorporating the Danat Sheikha Fathima bint Mubarak Pearl on display at the Abu Dhabi Palace Hotel
Her Highness Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak Al-Ketbi was the third wife of His Highness Sheik Zayd bin Sultan al-Nahyan, the late Emir of Abu Dhabi, and the founder-President of the United Arab Emirates, the immensely popular ruler of the UAE, who was re-elected again and again by the Supreme Council, as the President of the UAE, until his death in November, 2004. Born to a religious and conservative bedouin family as the only daughter to her parents, in the Al-Hayer area of Al-Ain City in the eastern region of Abu Dhabi, Sheikha Fathima imbibed the simple values of Bedouin life and environment, that had a great bearing in the development of her personality.
H.H. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan - Founder President of the United Arab Emirates
HH Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak married the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, in early 1960, when he was Governor of Al-Ain, the eastern region of Abu Dhabi, a post he held since 1946. When Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan became the ruler of the Abu Dhabi emirate in August 16th, 1966, Sheikha Fathima moved to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the emirate of Abu Dhabi. During his entire period of rule as the Emir of Abu Dhabi and later as the President of the UAE, HH Sheikha Fatima was always by his side, serving as his trusted counsellor and providing him with the necessary inspiration. Her close association with her husband during the crucial years of his rule as the Emir of Abu Dhabi from 1966 to 1971, facilitated her husband's arduous task in conducting negotiations with the rulers of the other emirates, that eventually led to the realization of his cherished dreams, the formation of a United Federation of seven emirates, known as the UAE, following the withdrawl of Britain on December 2, 1971. Her continued association with him, during his tenure as the President of the UAE for 33 years, helped shape her intellectual disposition, and prepare her for the huge responsibilities she assumed later.
Sheikha Fatima who was totally dedicated to her husband, devoted much of her time in taking care of him. She realized the importance of education in the life of a woman, and encouraged by her husband pursued not only studies on spiritual subjects such as the Quran, Sunna and Hadeeth, but also temporal subjects, such as literature and the humanities including history, politics and diplomacy. However, she was not satisfied by just her own intellectual achievement and the benefits she received from a balanced education that incorporated both secular and spiritual values, and believed that the opportunity to receive such an education should be thrown open to all women of the UAE. She soon realized that illiteracy of women was the main obstacle in the path to progress, and was determined to eliminate illiteracy, especially among women in the UAE, thereby enabling them to reap the benefits of a balanced education. In her fight against illiteracy she was encouraged by her husband His Highness Sheik Zayed, who believed that nothing should hinder the progress of women. It was Sheik Zayed who is famously reported to have said that, "women are half of the society" and that "my sisters and daughters all over the country should recognize that their responsibilities are greater and not lesser than those of men in this society."
Hence, encouraged by her husband she embarked on a campaign to promote the cause of women and established the first women's organization in Abu Dhabi in 1973, known as the Abu Dhabi Society for the Awakening of Women, followed by a nationwide campaign for educating young girls in society. In pursuing her efforts in uplifting the image and self-esteem of women, she was instrumental in the setting up of the UAE Women's Federation in 1975, whose objectives were the provision of necessary incentives for encouraging education of women, eradication of illiteracy among adult women, planning and executing activities to raise the cultural standards of women, putting in place a mechanism to ensure that social services and care reached mainly the women in need and their families, and to develop strong links with other international women's organizations. Her concerted efforts in the development of women's education had resulted not only in the total eradication of illiteracy, but also thrown open multiple career opportunities for women who opted for higher education, that were previously the exclusive preserve of their male counterparts. Not satisfied with what she had achieved for her fellow counterparts, she began an aggressive campaign to encourage women to go into fields overwhelmingly dominated by males, such as the media and politics, with the ultimate aim of gaining representation in the Federal National Council (FNC), the country's parliamentary assembly. Her efforts finally succeeded when in December 2006, Mrs. Amal-al-Qaisi was elected as the first female member of the FNC, that prompted the rulers of the other emirates to appoint eight other women to the FNC out of the 20 nominated members allowed under the constitution. Hence out of a total of 40 members in the the FNC during this period, nine were women, thanks to the untiring efforts of Her Highness Sheikha Fathima. Presently HH Sheikha Fathima is the Chairperson of General Women's Union (GWA) and Supreme Chairperson of the Family Development Foundation (FDF), and also the Honorary Chairwoman of the UAE Red Crescent Society.
As honorary chairwoman of the UAE Red Crescent Society, Her Highness Sheikha Fathima involved herself in humanitarian and charity projects not only in the UAE, but also at the international level in troubled regions of the world, such as Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq, Kosovo, Lebanon, Yemen and Sri Lanka, executing projects in the areas of health, education, re-settlement of refugees and also as assistance to people with special needs, offering a glimmer of hope to many distressed and disadvantaged people around the world.
Her Highness Sheikha Fathima's tireless efforts in the emanicipation and empowerment of women through education, and therby enabling them to participate in the economic and political institutions of the country and her support for causes of women both at the local, regional and international levels received the highest international recognition, when on December 14, 1997, she was honored simultaneously by five organizations of the United Nations - the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), now referred to as the United Nations Population Fund, the United Nations Volunteers Program (UNVP) and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).
Subsequently, she was also bestowed with the Marie Curie Medal by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in recognition of her efforts in the field of women's education, elimination of illiteracy, and the encouragement given to women to participate in the national and political life of the country. The Marie Curie Medal is a prestigious international award, and Her Highness Sheikha Fathima became the third international personality and the first Arab personality to receive this award.
In the year 2006, HH Sheikha Fathima was awarded the prestigious French Decoration known as the "Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Palmes Academiques," first instituted by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1808, and awarded for outstanding efforts for education, culture and education research. This was in recognition of her pioneering role in support of women's causes at local, regional and international levels.
In the year 2007, the United Nations Security Council, reasserting the crucial role that could be played by women in preventing and resolving conflicts and in peace building, called on member states and the Secretary General to bolster efforts to empower women and increase their representation in the decision making process. The Security Council stressed the importance of women's full involvement and equal participation in all meaningful efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security worldwide, and the need to increase the role of women in decision making in respect of conflict prevention and resolution. In this context, it was the most appropriate and logical next step that the Security Council give due recognition to efforts already made by the UAE in involving women in the decision making process and thereby encouraging women's participation in the country's development, that had successfully led many women in the UAE to get involved in the public and national life of the country. Soon afterwards on April 22, 2007, the highest international honor and recognition was bestowed on Her Highness Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak by the United Nations in appreciation of her outstanding contributions to women's empowerment and gender equality in the UAE, that projected her as a role model to millions of women across the world in general and the Arab world in particular. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the Mother of the Nation, Her Highness Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak, the United Arab Emirates appeared to be a step ahead of the United Nations in formulating policies that would benefit mankind as a whole !!!
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1) Mother of All Pearls on Display in Capital - Khaleej Times, January 26, 2010. www,khaleejtimes.com
2) Abu Dhabi hotel to display pearl collection - gulfnews.com, January 25, 2010. www.gulfnews.com
3) Her Highness Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak Al-Ketbi -Curriculum Vitae. General's Woman Union, Abu Dhabi National Authority. www.wu.gov.ae
4) Fatima bint Mubarak Al-Ketibi - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
5) Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak - Mother of Nation. www.motherofnation.ae
6) Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
7) Leadership and the Emirati Woman - Kristin Augsburg, Isabell A. Claus, Kasim Randeree
Dr Shihaan Larif
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