Operations Management field trip to RAK Pearls

On Saturday I went with Dr. Batoul's Operations Management class to Ras Al Khamiah and we visited the first company to manufacture cultured pearls in the Middle East - RAK Pearls. To learn more about the company visit their website here: RAK Pearls website

Our tour starts in the soon to be opened education centre
Our tour was given by Mr. Mohamed Al Suwaidi and it started with an overview of the history of pearling in the region. For over 7,000 years the area in the Arabian Gulf from RAK to Qatar the livelihood of thousands of men and their families depended on the pearling industry. Since the 30s with the rise of cultured pearls in Japan and the discovery of oil there has been little industrial regional production of pearls.

In 2005 RAK Pearls began operations with a vision to restart the industry in the country based on sustainability of the industry, the environment and as a way of preserving (or rediscovering) an important part of Emirati culture and heritage.

We started the tour talking about the past... the traditional dhow boats used and the daily life of the divers on the pearling ships. 

The men would go out on the boats and stay out from early to mid-June to mid September - or around four months and ten days. The pearl beds from RAK to Qatar lay under shallow water - making them accesable to the divers. The men would dive from sunrise to sunset and the dives would last between 2 - 3 minutes (yes, without breathing!)

The men would wake and say the morning prayer and have one or two dates and coffee and dive all day until the evening prayer, after which they would have their single meal of the day - catch of the day and rice. Work continued as they began to open the oysters from previous days that had died in their shells - making them easier to open (and super stinky I can only imagine). Only 1 - 2% had pearls that had market value... so incredible amounts of work for limited reward.

A diver's work was measured in the number of baskets of oysters gathered in the day.

How many baskets today?

How pearls were graded and weighed in the past...
We then learned of the new method used by RAK Pearls - that was a result of an R&D joint venture between themselves and a company in Japan. I took a video (with permission of course) about the "transplant" method and you can watch it here: RAK Pearls video

Essentially a seed (made from the shell of a large oyster from the Mississippi River) is implanted into the gonad of an oyster, along with cells from a "donor" oyster - which will cover the seed with mother of pearl... super interesting actually, even if I got wobbly watching the "transplant".

Donor oysters open and ready, surgical instruments, seeds and oysters ready for seeding covered with a damp towel.

Watching the operation with great interest....

After the seeding the oysters the oysters rest for a month, are sorted for the ones that survived
and then placed in trays in the "beds"
The oysters are then left to grow in the warm, clean waters of the bay... but they are "pressure" washed once a week to keep the shells free from dust from the mountains and parasites - so the oyster has nothing to do but create that beautiful pearl.

Then, almost a year later they are ready for harvesting - and they are left to grow for about twice as long as mass produced cultured pearls as Mr. Mohammed said they are aiming for quality and not quantity. 

Nothing is wasted during harvesting - the mother of pearl is used for decorative gift ware, the ground up shell is sold to cosmetic firms, the edible part of the pearl is sold to restaurants and the rest of the oyster is sold as fertilizer... nothing is wasted! Sustainability implemented and not just in the vision statement....

Then, the very exciting part of the tour. We each choose our oyster and find our pearl :) 

My pearl!

Some of the students showing off their pearls (most will be given to Moms of course!)
Deluxe corporate gift of the Dubai 2020 logo

RAK - stunning as usual
I think we all learned a lot in this tour - not just about Operations Management - but about SME Strategy and sustainability in action. 

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