International Women’s Day

Most days when I venture into Fauchon, its usually to satisfy my sweet cravings – they have the best desserts – ones that just melt in your mouth. This time however it was for the pre-celebration of International Women’s Day (which is on March 8th) at Mall of the Emirates (MOE). MOE has launched a ten-day campaign “It’s a Women’s World this March at MOE” from March 1st -10th to honour women in the UAE and throughout the Middle East and us girls hung out at Fauchon to kick start the celebrations well head of time. Since my birthday is on the 2nd, I’ve already started celebrating March with full vigour.

Embracing the official International Women’s Day theme,“Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures,” MOE has decided to honour five diverse women in Dubai who, through their own inspiring stories and commitment to charitable work, reflect the strong, independent and admirable qualities underlying the campaign.

From 1st to 10th March, MOE offers a Style Guide featuring on-trend fashion tips for the season and retail offers has been specially created for shoppers. The Guide lists offers across a number of the mall’s stores with offers ranging from Kurt Geiger, Harvey Nichols, DVF, See by Chloe, Sephora, Pullman and Kempinski Hotels, and Armani Café, just to name a few….delightful.

The women chosen to represent the campaign for their admirable qualities, achievements, challenges overcome and their tremendous dedication to charitable works are: Ayesha Kelaif in support of the Dubai Animal Rescue Centre (DARC), treating and fostering abandoned animals in the UAE; Lama Bazzari in support of NStyle Internationals’ Give N Style, empowering women through education; Ebtisam Abdulaziz in support of START, using art to heal and educate poor children in the Middle East; Saher Shaikh in support of Adopt-a-Camp, providing supplies and assistance to laborers; and Katrina Thornely in support of Emirates Arthritis Foundation, generating awareness and providing financial assistance to arthritis patients.

Diva likes and supports people who do CSR and community work….hence the special blog for women who I admire for the said causes.

International Women’s Day is celebrated throughout the world to inspire women and to celebrate their remarkable achievements. Mall of the Emirates is certainly celebrating the diversity of women throughout Dubai with all their awesome promotions…..some serious retail therapy is in order girls!

PR World Congress comes to Dubai

Diva just got an invite to the PR World Congress….normally I would not be so bothered about it as I have done enough courses and attended enough PR conferences to date but this particular one features speakers I know very well or admire, including the ex-Prime Minister of Malaysia (Anwar Ibrahim) whose house I used to go to to break fast as an International IIU student. I used to love dinners with him and listening to him talk to us young things, telling us we were the future leaders of the Muslim world and we could do great things if we followed our heart. He was very hands on as our patron and took great care of us during the month of Ramadan when we were away from family so dinners at his home was always a regular for expat students.

I must say while I love my life the way it is, I don’t think I’ve done justice in doing things the way he as our University patron would have wanted me to do. I was one of the first PR graduates to work in the UAE beginning of 2000 when the industry was just blossoming here and most of my colleagues were marketing people taking on PR as an added extra. Thankfully UAE has matured tremendously since and PR is an industry in its own right and may I add one of the most successful one at this point in time. Hence my regret that I don’t do enough for this discipline that I love and keep wasting my time in areas that get me nowhere.

So all the prep talks we received from Encik Anwar Ibrahim on being the best in the disciplines we were studying for did sink in but I wish I had taken action and focussed on my talent and dreams more instead of being distracted along the way. It is fine and well to live someone else’s dream or do things they feel you are good at but essentially at some stage you need to take a call and focus on the work that you are cut out to do and excel in.

Nonetheless, I am thrilled about the congress. As a publicity chick perhaps I am a little bias, but I’m always so pleased to read that top-level industry leaders are endorsing public relations as one of the most powerful marketing tools available. Its about time people noticed and respected our work.

PR is incredibly powerful because of the highly trusted third-party endorsements of media organisations of stories that make a difference – in my opinion, you just can’t beat it. For now, I hope I get to attend some of the congress. The last time I tried attending something of significance like this, I was slumbered at my desk doing stuff I should not have been doing in any event so the episode left diva not very impressed. There is a reason why we have support staff to do the mundane stuff. This time round the world can go to pot as my 2012 resolution is to do what I love and PR is my first love above everyone and everything else!

Diva is smiling….HEAPS!!!

Diva in the Mercedes SLK350 convertible

This year I decided to celebrate my birthday one week ahead…..partly because the love of my life NJD is going away on a ski trip to Switzerland on my birthday so my focus will mainly be on her this week…afterall this is her first trip on her own with her friends and at the age of 11, she may be confident about travelling and sliding down an icy mountain with no qualms but this mama is having mini heart attacks every hour as the trip gets closer.

So,,,,after a hectic and heavy week last week that included heaps of mental stress, PMS and warning signs to everyone around me to watch their step if they value their life, I decided to go on a sabbatical….not just any sabbatical but where I would live the life that I have become very accustomed to…in pure luxury.

Thankfully my early birthday presents came in form of experiences – Nick of Daimler reckoned diva needed a HOT car so he arranged for me to have for a few days none other than the top of the range 2 door sports car Mercedes SLK350 which I realised when I signed my life away to him was worth close to US$68,000/- (AED248,000/- roughly). But it was all good when at the touch of a bottom the roof came down and my hair went all sorts. It was an awesome convertible and since I get to drive the most expensive cars as and when I want, it really means that it must be fabulous if I start crooning about it. I don’t normally write entire blogs on cars but this baby deserves a whole piece dedicated to the fabulousness of the SLK….watch this space!

To top it off, Sarah decided that since I was meditating and moping anyway with all the problems my mind and body was going through, why don’t I breeze down to Abu Dhabi in the Merc and she would arrange for me to stay at the Suite in Shangri-la that came with a fabulous balcony, and separate living and dining area. Now most of my Malaysian friends were in Abu Dhabi this Friday so I breezed in, picked little diva up for the weekend and we spent the most amazing time at the Shangri-la suite, spa and I got to catch up with my Malaysian friends on Friday at the ‘Glorious Malaysian Galore’ festival in Mushrif Mall (Amazing stuff every evening until the 3rd of March). Lots of dancing, Malay food & Tim Hortons…what more can a woman want???

So all in all, I had an awesome time Friday night and Saturday thanks to two amazing people plus my Malaysian friends (Sakina & Sally ++) at a time I really needed to wind down. I feel a lot better in terms of being chilled and physically…well….if my PMS gets any worse and if these herbal remedies from Abu Dhabi don’t work their magic, I am seriously thinking of becoming a hermit for a week next month. (I wouldn’t be surprised if all the men in my life have noted the dates down to make sure they disappear during that period…women tend to be a bit more understanding and supply loads of chocolates, luxury holidays, sinful food and sweet & sour snacks instead).

Anyway… Having such a great time has left me smiling heaps…. I can’t wait for Sakina to return again to Dubai as she encourages me to get out of my shell, travel to new areas in UAE and generally have fun. I just hope she gets here while NJD is away cos I will be missing the little tyke heaps when she leaves on the night of my birthday and be away the next 10 days. Or I shall distract myself and write about my 2 nights of living in luxury at Qaryat Al Beri indulging in all sorts of fun stuff.

Face reading workshop with Cris Falconi

Couple of weeks ago I decided that since I get taken for a ride more often by the transient crowd in Dubai than not, its about time I did a face reading workshop so that I get some clue to what people are like based on what I read on their face.

It was awesome to find out that the trainer was none other than Cris, a friend of my Bosnian Australian University mate so it was awesome to have that comfort zone. The workshop was certainly an eye opener and made me realise that I should follow my instincts about people more often than always giving them the benefit of the doubt and be trusting.

We spent some time reading each others faces based on the overview provided by Cris so there was a lot of hands on experience between participants and I also found out that I should wear more whites and blues to enhance my looks.

What was more interesting was finding out more about people based on their features. For instance, I was warned by a few people months ago about a chick being sneaky, self serving and they told me to watch my back as no one around seemed to get along with her. Naturally me being the chilled out islander couldn’t be bothered but various lies and episodes later, I realised they were spot on about her – Incidentally this chick has a thin upper lip and this facial feature was the one thing Cris asked us to watch out for as this people can be very sneaky and manipulative. So now diva is on her toes and watching this chick’s every move. Lesson learnt!

Cris had some interesting insights on people’s ears, face shape, focus on face section based on age etc. He also touched on colours that we should wear plus body language. That was an eye opener as well and I read people and their motives a lot better now. Everything I predicted the last 2 weeks has been true…weather its someone having an attitude because they are trying to please another dodgy party or someone trying to point out at every opportunity how difficult it is what I do so that I give up and you know they want you to give up so they can step into your shoes right away …. I certainly am becoming a lot smarter and I’m glad I took this course. Money well spent!

Diva ventures a distance for World-Class Polo

It is difficult to get me out of the house on a Friday under normal circumstances so to entice me to drive to the Polo & Equestrian Club near Motor City all the way from Mirdif has to be for something special.

With Little diva at the Polo Club

But then, my host for the day was Mahmoud Nodjoumi who is one of the most humble and sweetest people I know and he sponsored the Polo Tournament in question – naturally that was reason enough to get my sexy butt out of bed and convince NJD that she could inherit my Sacoor polo shirt and be treated to a fun evening afterwards at DUCTAC if she would be my escort for the afternoon.

Naturally this kid…who already lays claim to anything nice I own for her inheritance jumped at the opportunity to try out the said shirt in her chic way combining it with white tights to match the collar (Clearly has more fashion sense than I do). It was a beautiful afternoon and over 200 UAE polo aficionados enjoyed a world-class display of horsemanship and sporting prowess at the final of the third annual Nexus Valentine’s Cup.

Sponsored by Nexus Insurance Brokers (Nadjoumi is the founder and CEO of Nexus), one of the region’s largest independent brokers, the event saw a crowd of glitterati, socialites with a cast of international and local polo stars at the Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club, with Dr. A Polo beating The Vikings 7-5 to emerge as champions. Nadjoumi mentioned the two days of fantastic polo had players showing world-class skills in a tightly-contested match.

The winning team also received prizes from Glam Rock Watches, a celebrity favourite recently launched in Dubai and available at Damas Exclusives – Glam Rock Watches is a client of Image Nation (Dipesh Depala and Ayman’s PR agency). It was so wonderful to hang out with Dipesh and Ayman who are a delight to meet each time – Dipesh dished out some good advise to NJD about her school and planning her future education supporting me in coaxing her to move schools to Dubai.

My plan was to get NJD to DUCTAC in time for Rock and Rolla but Nadjoumi insisted we join the invited guests and the polo players for dinner so he could brief me on his current CSR work. We obliged because I already saw that the event generated awareness for Al Noor Training Centre, a non-profit organisation supported by Nexus Insurance Brokers that provides individuals with special needs, regardless of background, with professional training and care in order to realize their potential and better integrate into the wider community.

Nexus Insurance Brokers provided a space to display handcrafted items created by the students as part of their training programme…its because of Nexus CSR work and because of Nadjoumi’s good heart, I always make an effort to go to activities related to Nexus.

We did make it to Rock and Rolla with Dave Crane as the MC for the night.  Dave is one of my oldest acquaintances in Dubai from his radio DJ days and we share a passion for Rugby 7s . We compared notes on our kids etc briefly before witnessing some of the most talented kids on stage….more on this coming later.


With His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Maktoum bin Juma Al Maktoum - chatting about cars, travels etc

I have to say that apart from meeting and catching up with His Highness Sheikh Mohammad bin Maktoum bin Juma Al Maktoum (Admire him for his great work with the Rashid Paediatric Therapy Centre), my biggest fascination at the Big Boys Toys exhibition has to be the multi-million dirham luxury mobile home. Big Boys Toys is the region’s premier lifestyle event and features exclusive products and services for the man who ‘wants it all’. From limited edition super cars to personal aircrafts and luxury products never before seen, the show had essentially all desired items in one ideal location at Atlantis.

Going back to the multi-million dirham ultra-luxurious mobile home, the ‘eleMMent’ Palazzo. The eleMMent Palazzo, by Marchi Mobile, is a mobile palace for the elite. The expandable pop-up flybridge lounge is fitted with multiple bars overlooking two floors that contain a master bedroom with an integrated bathroom and a couch that can be converted into bar furniture at the push of a button.

A programmed central control provides all important information at a glance, with set-up and dismantling being executed by a touch screen panel. An added security feature allows for remote video access, via an additional control unit, of the exterior and interior, and also permits to pre-set the lighting and temperature.

Naturally diva cant go to a show like this and not talk about cars. Middle East’s own exclusive Nissan GT-R VVIP, with a 0-100kmph in 3.6 seconds dazzled with 24-carat gold-plated aspect panels, grill, and the exclusive VVIP badges, while exuding awesome power in look and aspect.

Another debut, the ‘Hulme CanAm Spyder’ named in honour of Denny Hulme, New Zealand’s only Formula One World Champion and double CanAm Champion, is not for the faint hearted. It is a unique car for those with a desire for performance, F1-type exhilaration and style. It is a true driver’s car powered by a hand-built, supercharged, 7000cc, Chevy V8 engine, providing amazing torque and tractability.

A definite favourite among the extreme sports enthusiasts and recreational riders is the Dual Tracked Vehicle (DTV) Shredder manufactured by BPG Werks. The DTV Shredder is the first true crossover vehicle for action and power sports. A combination of tank, skateboard and motocross bike, it is the first year round, all-terrain vehicle and it fits in the trunk of a car. With the DTV Shredder, the outdoors becomes the personal playground.

Last year I met with an interesting inventor during a visit to the Palace of Sheikh Hamad in Abu Dhabi who had the most amazing helicopter for personal use. I must write about this guy at some stage as I remember him giving me a CD with his company information. This year I reckon the guys at Artaaj did an awesome job as always. Well done Raha and heaps of thanks to Tareq and His Highness for making the visit even more interesting.


COPD and how careful we need to be

Atlantis...venue for the COPD symposium

Earlier this week after dinner I got coaxed into meeting with a couple of specialist doctors on Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) initiated by Virtue guys who felt that since I didn’t have time to volunteer at the Down’s Syndrome centre these days, I should become an ambassador on health and write about medical issues that affect people in the UAE.

OK. Enough with the smirks now. I know I generally write about flimsy light stuff but once in a while I can get serious enough if I feel like doing a bit of CSR bit in terms of creating awareness about a problem that anyone can be a victim of. Anyway, Rajah (Bless her gentle soul) decided that she would drive me to Atlantis (We Fijians are always ready to help people for good causes) so we could dine afterwards at one of the funky Atlantis food places.

Basically I got a quick update on proceedings of a medical symposium co-organised by the Emirates Allergy and Respiratory Society, in collaboration with Takeda Pharmaceuticals FZCO. Their objective is to warn people that while most chronic diseases in the UAE are being controlled, the Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is rapidly increasing, with 4 per cent of the Abu Dhabi population affected by it, according to recent study done by Dr. Ashraf H. Alzaabi, Head of Respiratory Division, Zayed Military Hospital, Abu Dhabi, UAE.

Dr. Mirza Ali Al Sayegh, President, Emirates Allergy and Respiratory Society said a new study on COPD is being conducted by the Society to cover the whole GCC region and its details would be announced soon.

Dr. Bassam Mahboub, Consultant Pulmonary Medicine, Asst. Prof. University of Sharjah, Head of Allergy and Respiratory Department, Dubai Hospital and Vice Chair Emirates Allergy and Respiratory Society Dubai, UAE said: “COPS is currently the fifth leading cause of death worldwide. The prevalence of smoking in the UAE is around 23 percent. The 4 percent figure of the COPD prevalence will rise as the smokers’ group in the UAE grows older.”

I briefly met with Professor Leonardo Fabbri, an expert from the University of Modena in Italy, Reggio Emilia who said “The WHO estimates 80 million people have moderate to severe COPD worldwide. Three million people died from COPD, which corresponded to five percent of all deaths globally. Every hour COPD is estimated to kill more than 250 people worldwide, which means that COPD kills someone every 15 seconds.’

Dr. Al Sayegh alerted participants that COPD is an under-diagnosed, life-threatening lung disease. COPD is used to describe chronic lung diseases in which breathing is severely restricted because of lung damage and inflammation. He emphasized that the disease is preventable and can be managed but it is progressive.

Dr. Osama Al-Nawasany, Medical Affairs Director, Takeda Pharmaceuticals FZCO, Dubai mentioned that one of the most promising new treatments for COPD is Roflumilast, a first-in-class phosphodiesterase (PDE4) inhibitor that is the only licensed oral therapy that targets COPD-specific inflammation.

The symposium highlighted that many people with COPD continue to suffer from frequent exacerbations and an increased risk of a more rapid disease progression. Smoking cigarettes is the major cause of COPD in 80 per cent of cases. Other causes include: pollution generated by a number of domestic heaters and air pollution. Besides smoking cessation, there are several treatments, which should be closely monitored by qualified physicians. Self-medication is not an option for this disease.

We really should follow our body clocks

Someone came to me earlier this week with 3 flight options for me to travel and said “you can go on Saturday morning at 7.15am flight and have a more decent weekend”. I don’t think this chick realises that a 7.15am flight means you need to be at the airport at 5.15am if not earlier. How can that be even remotely decent? And since when did I worry about losing weekend time? I would rather take a really late night flight the night before than try and save weekend time and fly at an ungodly time the next day and make everyone’s life around me miserable….after all these years she clearly has not figured me out. I know I’m mysterious but my morning mishaps I thought was legendary.

If looks could kill, I think she would have been dead meat by now cos diva is happy to take flights late nights, midnight or even at 3am but to sleep and wake up at 5am….everyone knows I don’t do that for love or for money. Some people may argue that its better to sleep through the night, wake up early….for my body clock, it means if my alarm goes off before 6am, you can write off any intelligent contribution for the day plus be subjected to my moodiness which trust me is not something anyone, including Psychopaths, Argentinean call girls or even annoying and pestering finance advisors should be subjected to….i get lethal and its not pleasant!

I recall times when my ex-boss Stuart Cameron (who I reckon is one of the most far sighted and intelligent people I have met in a long time) telling us to follow our body clocks and make the most of our productive time. I remember achieving wonders during that period of my life because I followed my body clock. Which means that I did all my creative thinking, strategising, planning and writing near 10pm. The next day, although I walked into the office late, I was a ball of energy and did more work than 5 people put together with a plan in place that I had brilliantly came up with and brainstormed with him the night before. Thankfully, he was one of these amazing people who ran his own business so was always available on the phone to discuss anything brilliant that his team came up with whether it was over a drink, while he was on the beach or on the road. He respected and recognised that people were more productive and sharp at certain times of the day and made himself available to his team….mornings naturally didn’t feature high when it came to moi but our chief designer woke up at 5am and hit the ground running at 140kmph. We were intellectually stimulated all day feeding off each others energies at different times of the day and hence I became a great believer in quality time and apposed to quantity… Somehow I lost this philosophy along the way!

Looking at the other side of the coin, my mentor Elena, who runs a successful PR company in California sent a bit of info on how sleeping allows us to refuel and restore our bodies and how we should not deprive ourselves of needed sleep time. She talks about how Time management expert Kathryn McKinnon provides us with a strategy to make sleep work for us during the workday in her best-selling book entitled Triple Your Time Today: 10 Proven Time Management Strategies to Help you Create and Save More Time!

Kathryn introduced Elena to the possibilities that lie within this concept in an answer to a question that Elena posed to her on LinkedIn. She said the following:
“We have, on average, 20,000 thoughts each day. Unfortunately, about 80% of those thoughts are negative. That means you spend a lot of time thinking unproductively. It’s your negative thinking that gets in the way of accomplishing what you want to do because these thoughts create doubt and fear, which then create hesitation and inaction. That means it takes you longer to accomplish your goals–in short, it takes more time.”

“If you . . . let your mind go to work for you, your mind will spend that time, while you’re sleeping, finding a way to deliver a solution to your problem. Triple Your Time Today gives step by step instructions on how to utilize this powerful strategy. A combination of focusing on the positive things that have happened during the day just before “lights out,” suspending judgment on the ideas that surface upon waking, and journaling are the keys to success – they tap into the well of creativity that each of us possesses.”

Elena began to implement this with positive results, and noticed that she is sleeping better at night. I am so going to try this as long as I don’t find myself waking up anytime before 6am. Now that would be tragic and very undiva like!

Lesson: Follow your body clock, believe in respecting your productive time and don’t kill yourself trying to make things work during your down time just to please other people or to fulfill the need to be at your desk for the sake of it.

Pearls: Forever Fashionable

People close to me know that as an Islander, I adore pearls and am being constantly bugged by friends about this awesome book I recently added to my library on this oh so cool gem. So imagine my delight when Kristin Mahan of GIA sent me this awesome piece on Pearls prepared by experts from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). I can finally take care of all my pearl collections the right way. Naturally, i couldn’t wait to share this with you and all credit for this goes to GIA including the awesome image of the Tahitian Pearl earings….I hope GIA sends me a cool story next on Fijian pearls……enjoy:

Pearls: Forever Fashionable

A jewelry store’s pearl counter is a fascinating place. These enchanting gems have represented beauty and perfection ever since man discovered them in ancient times. They have been the subject of countless tales of history, beauty, myth and elegance.

The Arabian Gulf was the world’s first source of natural pearls and remained so for centuries. Natural pearls from the Gulf are notable for their transparent and high-lustre nacre. Together with pearls from the Red Sea and the Strait of Manaar, they have been referred to as “oriental pearls” and are highly valued.

Part of a pearl’s appeal is its organic origins: It comes from a living animal, a mollusk. And because pearls are slightly porous, they warm up against the skin as they are worn. The wearer and the gems become one.

The exciting array of pearl choices available today can be overwhelming. When you combine the variety of colors, sizes and shapes with metals and other gemstones in rings, necklaces and earrings, the possible combinations are practically endless.

So before you set off to buy pearl jewelry, you should understand the basics. Are you looking for natural or cultured pearls? Do you know what to look for in terms of size, luster and color? What price range are you interested in? How are some pearls treated to enhance their appearance? These are all good questions to consider before you begin to shop.

A retailer who knows the types of natural and cultured pearls that are available and the factors that determine their value will be an invaluable resource to you as you explore pearls.

In the meantime, here are some basics to get you started.

Pearls are natural or cultured and grow in mollusks that can live in either salt water or fresh water. They are made up of layers of calcium carbonate most popularly in the form of nacre, a natural substance produced by pearl oysters that coats the inside of the animal’s shell. This beautiful, lustrous nacre is the very essence of a pearl.

Natural Saltwater Pearls
Natural pearls are extremely rare. The Arabian Gulf is the most important source for natural pearls – 70-80 percent of all pearls came from there until the 1950s. The island of Bahrain was a centre for trade with northwest India and what is now the modern Middle East. A 4,000-year-old pearl was uncovered in 1989, and excavations at the ancient Bahrain’s Dilmun settlement have confirmed that pearl fishing has been going on for at least 3,000 years.

Natural, saltwater pearls from the Arabian Gulf come from the Pinctada radiata and Pinctada margaritifera. Persian Gulf pearls range in color from white to dark cream and tend to be more yellow than those from the Red Sea and Strait of Manaar, whose characteristic colors are very light yellow, cream and very light pink. The Red Sea also produces some pearls in darker hues that range from intense pink to light to dark violet.

Natural saltwater natural pearls are also found occasionally in Baja California, Venezuela, Myanmar, China, Japan, India, French Polynesia, Australia and Africa – the same regions that have cultured pearl industries.

Salt Water Cultured Pearls
If you ask someone to describe an Akoya pearl, they will most likely describe a white, round, lustrous gem cultured in Japan and China in Pinctada fucata (martensii). Most akoya cultured pearls are white or cream and some have hints of rosé (pink) or green. The akoya oyster is relatively small, so it doesn’t usually produce a cultured pearl larger than 9 mm. Natural pearls from Pinctada fucata (matensii) are extremely rare.

Tahitian cultured pearls have only been on the market since the 1970s and come in colors including eggplant purple, peacock green, metallic gray and grayish blue. The mollusk that produces them (Pinctada margaritifera) is native to French Polynesia and is farmed there and in the Cook Islands, Fiji, Australia and New Zealand.

South Sea cultured pearls come from one of the world’s largest pearl oyster (Pinctada maxima), which produces cultured pearls that can measure 15 mm or larger. They are farmed in Australia, Burma, the Philippines and Indonesia. While South Sea cultured pearls occur in other colors, silver, white and yellow (sometimes referred to as “golden”) are the most common.

Freshwater Cultured Pearls
Cultured pearl farmers in China produce the overwhelming majority of cultured freshwater pearls. These cultured pearls vary widely in color and are generally more affordable than salt water cultured pearls. Sizes are comparable to akoya cultured pearls, with a range between 2 mm and 13 mm, although larger sizes are now available. Fascinating new cultured pearls from fire balls to soufflés have been emerging from China in a dramatic array of colors.

The chief cultured pearl-producing mussel in the U.S. is the “washboard” M. nervosa. Only a small fraction of the total number of freshwater cultured pearls produced come from the U.S.

What to look for when picking out pearls
GIA, the world’s foremost authority on diamonds and gems, created a pearl description system, in order to evaluate the quality of pearls. GIA’s 7 Value Factors include Size, Shape, Color, Luster, Surface, and Nacre. Be sure to ask your sales associate to go through these with you.

Size: As with other gems, a larger pearl (measured in millimeters) is typically more valuable. The larger the pearl, the more rare and costly it tends to be. But fine quality pearls can be small, and low quality pearls can be large, so a pearl’s ultimate worth depends on how it combines the complete mix of value factors.

Shape: While round is the most familiar shape, pearls come in a parade of forms (round, near round, oval, button, drop, semi-baroque, baroque). No matter what its shape, if a pearl is or symmetrical, it will be more valuable than one that’s irregular.

Color: A pearl’s color is a combination of its dominant bodycolor, overtone, the subtle colours that seem to come from within the pearl, and orient, the “play of color” you see when the pearl moves.. Cultured pearls display a broad palette of subtle hues, ranging from warm (yellow, orange and pink) to cool (blue, green and violet).

Luster: The intensity of light reflected from or just below the surface of the pearl, its luster, contributes the most to the beauty of a pearl. The effect is an inner glow from the heart of the gem. A pearl with excellent luster will look bright and shiny, while one with poor luster is dull and far less valuable. Fine akoyas tend to display a bright, mirror-like gloss. Other pearls tend to feature a softer, satiny luster.

Surface: A completely clean pearl is a rare treasure. Since rarity influences value, the prices of such pearls run extremely high. The number, nature, and location of surface characteristics (abrasions, bumps, chips, cracks, etc.) can affect the value of any pearl. Numerous or severe surface irregularities – such as chips or gaps – can threaten the durability of the pearl and cause it to break or peel and considerably lower its quality and value. If a surface characteristic is minor and located near a pearl’s drill hole, where it’s less noticeable, it will detract less from the pearl’s appearance and ultimate value.

Other value factors can minimize the effect of surface characteristics on a pearl’s worth. If the pearl is large and highly lustrous, for example, these pluses can outweigh a slight surface characteristic or two. In fact, excellent luster makes some surface characteristics less noticeable.

Nacre: Nacre is the very essence of the pearl itself and nacre thickness does affect the value. Quality cultured pearls have ample thickness to allow the pearl to display its beauty.

Matching: The uniformity of the appearance of pearls in strands and multi-pearl pieces is called matching.

How to Care for Pearls
Now that you’ve gotten your pearls, you should know a few things about taking care of them.

To retain their beauty, they need a certain amount of moisture, which is why you should avoid storing pearls in an airtight or overly dry environment, such as a bank safety deposit box. The human body conveniently provides just the right amount of moisture. Worn often and properly cared for, pearls can look as good in 50 years as they did the day they left the store.

Pearls are not the most durable of gems. Most everyday items at home and in the office are tougher than pearls, so careless contact can cause damage them over time. Chemicals are the primary threat. Perfume, makeup and hairspray contain ingredients that can eat away the nacre, permanently dulling it. Many cleaning products contain chemicals such as ammonia and chlorine, which can pit gold alloys and quickly damage pearls. Chlorinated swimming pool water is also hazardous. Avoid wearing pearl jewellery when cleaning the house or doing yard work.

The best way to clean your pearls is with a soft damp cloth, ideally after each time you wear them.

Are you ready to learn more?
Consider taking a course to gain a deeper understanding of this fascinating gem. GIA offers an online pearl course in its gemmology eLearning curriculum that you can take from the comfort of your home. It’s a fascinating look at the world of pearls, including their origin, how they get to market, and the GIA 7 Value Factors used to describe their quality. Or, you can choose to take a one-day instructor-led GIA Pearl Grading class where you’ll learn to evaluate the quality of freshwater, South Sea and Tahitian pearls.

To find out more about pearls and GIA’s pearl courses, visit See image courtesy of GIA.

A taste of Wilbur Smith

Most successful people talk about how they got where they are with a perfect balanced life and you feel like kicking their guts because the reality is that you often have to give up a lot, make a lot of compromises etc before tasting success. Which is why I like the South African novelist Wilbur Smith…..he is honest about what he gave up in his interviews and despite his success, is known to be very patient, gentle and down to earth. And what I most admire and I hope to god I become like him one day is his ability to move on. Trust me….I’ve tried but I get so attached to people, places, situations that often it is to my own detriment.

I read about Wilbur Smith sometime around 1997/98 and thought very differently then. Now, having had a taste of all kinds of people, their motives, often dishonesty over the course of the last year or so, I actually would love to be like him and be able to compartmentalise my life into components, have the ability not to forgive and move on to my next project and make it work without owing anything to anyone. At first I felt it was thoughtless that such a brilliant author could cut off links with his kids, forget the names of his ex wives but having delved more, I realise that perhaps his ability to not put up with any nonsense in his life has worked in his favour and he has been able to focus and come up with successful books by following his dream and passion for writing by cutting out everyone who didn’t have the same passion and vigour for creativity.

Most of all, I admire this third wife (Danielle). Men can naturally be not very nice creatures as we all know with their drinking, cheating and philandering and often need a decent woman to break their bad habits. They can also be gullible as I have discovered recently when they are drunk or irresponsible when their priorities and focus is less on productive work and more on dodgy sabbaticals with equally dodgy people or I’ve even come across vagrants who don’t have money to eat but will sell their soul for sex and alcohol. So it was certainly heart warming to read about Daniel, or Dee as she is known, who apart from being Wilbur’s muse, researcher, editor was also able to get him to give up smoking, change his looks, travel the world and become more open minded about the world than he already was. I wonder if there are women left these days who are able to shape men this way for the best or help them become better people.

Anyway,,, for now I am ashamed I still have not read A Sparrow Falls, When the Lion feeds, The Burning Shore and The Sound of Thunder. The next time I have withdrawal symptoms of reading something offbeat, I will turn to Wilbur’s work, his life as an author, where he gets his inspirations from and more on his favourite books. If you have any of his books in your library, let me know as he is the next author I am spending my time on for leisure reading. I would love to meet him in Cape Town to see what his next book is all about and how he gets his characters so perfect in the way he portrays them.