Then, in the 1950’s, out of the blue, something happened. Oil was discovered in the region. For places like Qatar and Abu Dhabi it was a sudden salvation. They were rich again. Other sheikhdoms were not so lucky. Some had only a little oil and some had none at all.
For Dubai it was a long wait. Oil was finally discovered off its coastline in the 1960’s but in meagre reserves. Dubai always knew that whatever money oil might bring would be limited. They would have to make the most of it. And they did. Dubai built a deep sea port, the only one in the region, which brought revenue to the emirate. Money went into roads and hospitals and schools. Then airport expansions. And finally, by the year 2006, the year in which I stood in the luxurious ballroom of the Emirates Tower Hotel, skyscrapers.
As I looked at the Gulf Pearl Set I wondered how much of the pearling catastrophe was still remembered. More than that, I wondered how much of the experience was ingrained consciously or unconsciously in the personality of the Gulf states. A great deal, I thought. I knew that Westerners often found the people of the Arabian Gulf to be arrogant and difficult to know. They felt that they were aloof and unfriendly and suspicious. Perhaps they were. And if they were who could blame them. Now they have oil. When you have something everyone wants then the whole world competes to be your best friend. But what happens when that changes? The people of the Arabian Gulf know the answer to that question better than anybody.
By now the ballroom was no longer deserted. There were serious agents and prospective buyers arriving. Soon they would be inspecting the Gulf Pearl Set, the necklace, the bracelet, the earrings and ring with cool and critical professional eyes, not the star-struck eyes of a horse vet who had trespassed where she didn’t belong. In short, I didn’t want to be in the way. So I thanked the Christie’s expert for all his time and patience and said goodbye. Naturally, being the professional he was, he replied that it was nothing, that the pleasure had all been his.
I took a long parting glance at that spectacular constellation of pearls and diamonds before making my way back past all the other jewelry and out of the ballroom.
Already my imagination was on fire.