DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES ñ June 30: Gaiti Rabbani, Executive Director of Coloured Stones & Pearls at her office in Convention Tower, Dubai. (Pawan Singh / The National) *** Local Caption ***  PS002-GAITI RABBANI.jpgPS002-GAITI RABBANI.jpg
Gaiti Rabbani and the DMCC aim to revive the pearling heritage of the UAE.

Diving for pearls and heritage



Gaiti Rabbani is the executive director of coloured stones and pearls at the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre.

The idea is to revive the pearling heritage of this part of the world and to re-establish Dubai as a trade hub, which is what it was known as for years. Some of the best pearls in the world up to the early 1900s were found off the coast of the UAE, or the Trucial States as they were known, and Dubai was known for the trade too: a lot of the pearls would be brought here and people would come from India and Europe to buy.

No. The industry at that time was based around natural pearling and now it's all cultured pearls. We ran feasibilities and they tell us that we can produce the pearls in these waters, with the indigenous oysters, but it's not something we're interested in doing - and a lot of Dubai's water is taken up with offshore developments so you'd struggle to find space.

Dubai has a very strong jewellery retail market, and it's very well branded as the "city of gold" - people come from all over the world to buy gold because of its reputation, its quality, its affordability and the fact that you get gold jewellery from all parts of the world. The DMCC created the diamond division and that's reflected in the market today, and then we got into coloured stones and pearls, and if you go into the mall today and walk around you'll see a lot more colour and pearls being used in jewellery. My own vision would be to transform the city of gold into the city of pearls, because that's something that's closer to our roots and our culture here. There are a lot of things that have to take place for that to happen, and standards and reputation and certification and awareness and education are part of it, but I think there's a beautiful story to be told when it comes to pearls.

The pearl story is something that nobody's done particularly well anywhere. If you go to Japan, they've got Mikimoto Island, which is very difficult to get to, and it's more of a tribute and museum. You'll find the same thing in Tahiti, but nobody's doing that at a global level, which is where the Pearls of Arabia project on the World Islands comes into play. This will be an experience centre where people can learn about the history here and internationally, as well as what to look for when you're buying pearls.

No, the retail is very important, but there are standards that need to be brought into the market. As a consumer, what are you looking for, what do you ask for in a store? There's no universal system with pearls that you can adopt - it exists with diamonds, with gold, but with pearls each producer has its own system and certification. So we as government want to create a set of standards and endorse retailers who adopt these standards and disclose qualities and treatments. ­Dubai would be the first market worldwide to do this.

You have pearl auctions in Japan and some small ones in Australia, but they're mostly in Hong Kong, alongside the jewellery trade shows, and that's what we're looking to bring here to Dubai. It's much more efficient for westerners looking to travel less. Also, because there's minimal bureaucracy, it's an easier process to get your products here than in Europe.

We're working with international partners including the World Jewellery Confederation, which is a United Nations-backed organisation. The fact that we are neutral, because we're not producing pearls today, allows us to promote pearls from Japan, Australia and China. But we have to make sure that the ­criteria are relevant to this market. The awareness levels here, even among the traders, are quite poor.

Yes, education and promotion, which is where our design initiative Pearl Essence comes into play. We've gone out and invited 10 top international fashion brands to ­design a piece inspired by the heritage of pearling in Arabia. The ­designs will form part of a travelling exhibition around the world and ultimately be auctioned by Christie's in Dubai, and the ­proceeds will go to charity.

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1998: Amazon acquires IMDb, its first major acquisition. It also starts selling CDs and DVDs

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Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”

The years Ramadan fell in May

1987

1954

1921

1888

THE BIO:

Sabri Razouk, 74

Athlete and fitness trainer 

Married, father of six

Favourite exercise: Bench press

Must-eat weekly meal: Steak with beans, carrots, broccoli, crust and corn

Power drink: A glass of yoghurt

Role model: Any good man