Hyderabad is a city of culture, art, cuisine and sights.
Hyderabad is known as the “City of Pearls”, due to the presence of pearl trading industry.Until the 18th century ,the city was the only global trade center of large diamonds.
Diamonds from Golconda were renowned for their highest quality, transparency, whiteness and purity. They were referred to in the international diamond trade as “diamonds of purest water”.
In spite of Hyderabad’s international fame as the main source of diamonds for over two and a half centuries, it was pearls from the Gulf of Mannar and the Persian Gulf that have over time left the boldest mark on the Hyderabad’s culture and trade. Today, Hyderabad has become the largest center for pearl trading not only in India but also the entire world, selling about 40-50 thousand kilograms of pearls each year.
How Hyderabad- a landlocked city with the ocean more than 300 kms away became the world’s largest trading center for pearls?
What amazes everybody is how Hyderabad achieved the status of the top pearl trading center in the world, a landlocked city, with the ocean more than 300 km away.
The answer lies in the city’s history. Hyderabad has acquired the moniker ‘ City of Pearls’ due to compassionate patronage of the Nizams, who ruled over the state of Hyderabad for over 200 years from 18th Century to mid 20th Century (i.e. from 1724 AD to 1948 AD)
Two centuries of a vibrant pearl culture with imperial patronage of the Nizams of Hyderabad had given rise to artisans skilled in their trade.
The patronage of the Nizams attracted many craftsmen from distant parts of the world, especially the Persian Gulf, the most ancient source of natural pearls in the world.
Arab traders of the Persian Gulf preferred to sell their pearls to the Nizams of Hyderabad because of the attractive prices paid by them. The Nizams also encouraged Arab artisans who were skilled in sorting, grading and piercing pearls to settle down in Hyderabad and work for them
This resulted in the technological transfer needed to sustain a pearl jewelry industry in Hyderabad. Some of the skills of the pearl industry such as drilling, was a zealously guarded family secret, passed down from generation to generation.
Drilling of pearls in old days was considered a highly skilled job, still done by hand, and carried out to perfection in Hyderabad.
It is said that nine out of every ten pearls in the world pass through Hyderabad in India, at a certain stage for finishing, piercing and stringing.
A Slice of History:
Ibn Batuta who visited Sri Lanka in 1344, writes in his travelogue about a meeting with the king of Ceylon, “One day I went to him while there lay about a large number of pearls. His men were busy sorting and classifying the best. “Have you seen any pearl fishing in the countries you come from?” he asked. “Yes, on the islands of Gays and Kish (in the Persian Gulf),” I said. Then he picked up a few and asked, “Are their pearls like these ?” “They are inferior” I replied. He was delighted and said, “These pearls are yours. Don’t be shy, you can demand of me as many as you desire.”
The availability of skilled manpower was one of the main factors that were responsible for sustaining a jewelry industry based on pearls in Hyderabad for generations, and making Hyderabad the top pearl trading center in the world today. Unmatched craftsmanship and amazingly low labor cost are two other factors that attracted pearls to the Hyderabad pearl market.
The sources of pearls that reached the Hyderabad pearl market in the past-
The main sources of pearls that reached the Hyderabad pearl market in the past was the Gulf of Mannar in Sri Lanka (Ceylon), and the Persian Gulf, the source of Basra pearls.
Pearls from Ceylon reached Hyderabad via the city of Madurai in South India. Those from the Persian Gulf, reached through the Portuguese controlled port of Goa on the west coast of India. Pearls from Ceylon were regarded as the finest quality, as they were mostly uniformly white.
Freshwater Pearls from China and Japan have now replaced the natural pearls from Ceylon and the Persian Gulf
After the death of the natural pearl industry in the Persian Gulf in the 1930s ,the international pearl markets were flooded with Japanese cultured pearls.The Hyderabad pearl industry too adapted itself to newly available cultured products.
Today, dealers in Hyderabad import raw pearls from China and Japan, and Hyderabad has become the nerve center of India’s pearl trade.
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