BY ANAAM IKRAM
Over the years as the pearling industry in Bahrain has evolved drastically, as has its key players. From the family’s founding fathers securing their beginnings in the pearling industry as pearl merchants and passing the business onto the coming generations, who continued to evolve and develop the business, ensuring their positions are cemented as prominent figures in Bahrain’s and the GCC’s jewellery industry. Diversifying their businesses to include more than pearl-related jewellery, many of the families that established their businesses on the pearl trade expanded to include traditional Bahraini jewellery made from gold, bespoke gifts to mark special occasions, and other accessories to cater to a dynamic and fashion-forward audience, yet still staying true to their foundations of the pearls by offering a stunning collection of pearl jewellery. The Al Mannai family is a fine example of successfully being able to do just that and remaining one of the most renowned jewellers in Bahrain with their wide variety of traditional and modern jewellery, unique designs, and boasting an outstanding jewellery manufacturing division in Bahrain. Perle Magazine spoke to Mohammed Al Mannai, the fifth generation of the Al Mannai family member to head the business as President, about their 175-year old business and how it has continued to prosper throughout the years.
Salem Bin Darwish Al Mannai set up the business in 1824 as a pearl trading business, followed by the business developing many arms in the jewellery industry as the years went on. Taking the trade to India to source and sell pearls there in the winter, the Al Mannai family worked with agents at the time to ensure their business would prosper outside of the Kingdom as well. Taking over the business at just 22 years old, Mohammed Al Mannai also received his education in jewellery design and manufacturing from Bombay, India, and returned to Bahrain to continue the family lineage in jewellery. Mr. Mohammed says at the time there were no retail outlets for jewellery of pearl trading, most traders would meet at coffee shops and make transactions there. Mr. Mohammed’s involvement in the business not only brought about the establishment of their very first store located on Al Mutanabbi Avenue at the time in the early 1952, but he also set up their jewellery manufacturing division. Al Mannai Jewelery settled their roots in Manama with their only retail showroom in Moda Mall – then Sheraton Complex – and working alongside agents across the GCC, and has remained for over 31 years now.
Moving slowly towards their expansion, Mr. Mohammed explains with the capacity of their manufacturing division, they are able to work towards producing traditional Bahraini jewellery. “It was more in demand at the time and was very popular, and actually remains so to this day,” he says and explains from then they started working on stone-setting in jewellery and working with metals such as yellow and white gold. Expanding their business further, Al Mannai Jewelery started the design and production of exclusive and unique gifts for officials from Bahrain and neighbouring GCC countries. Focusing more on the manufacturing side of the business, Mr. Mohammed adds they are still quite well known for their pearling business, and are considered as one of the biggest pearl traders of the region, and source the Bahraini pearl from countries like Kuwait, London, New York, Paris, London, or wherever it is easily available.
Working with wholesalers and retail customers, Al Mannai Jewelery caters to the needs of each customer individually. Designing the pieces himself, Mr. Mohammed says his talented in-house artists work with him to transform his ideas into an image with exact details such as stone, colour, shape, shine, and so on, before delivering everything to the workshop to be produced. He adds Al Mannai Jewelery is open to customers presenting their own designs, designing a specific piece as per the customers’ requests, or even helping customers with a design to produce a piece they will truly love. Additionally, the unique gift pieces are made taking into consideration all requested elements, especially those that are linked with the rich history and heritage of The Kingdom.
Catering largely to customers from Bahrain, Saudi, and Qatar, and UAE, Mr. Mohammed says the market taste changes recurrently and it is hard to decipher a specific taste pattern when it comes to jewellery preference. “No one design stays for long, except perhaps the traditional Arabic designs, those never go out of style, instead their production and quality has only been enhanced over time,” he explains.
He adds, when they started their shop in the 1950s, people preferred to have weighty pieces, and after a few years customers started to prefer jewellery with precious stones, trends changed again and smaller more delicate and dainty items were being favoured to achieve a more international and modern piece. Customers would sometimes prefer white gold and later on the same customer would start to wear yellow gold, before going back to white gold again. The eclectic and ever-changing taste of the customers is something Al Mannai Jewelery is always ready for and can easily accommodate any request that their customers brings to them. Mr. Mohammed says it is also very important to do extensive market research to maintain their competitive edge and to make sure their customers always receive new, innovative, and exclusive designs.
Boasting a notable selection of jewellery sets, rings, earrings, bangles, and other accessories that are manufactured by well-known jewellery houses in Europe such as Wellendorf, Erich Keller, and more, Al Mannai Jewelery is home to incredibly precious and striking pieces. The eye-catching displays of the Moda Mall store showcase the lustrous jewellery pieces that are even more precious up close. Mr. Mohammed explains as retailers, they wish to fulfil two duties, one is as a salesman to ensure the customers are being catered to with the utmost attention, and the second is to educate customers about the items they are interested in. “As much as time would allow us and as much as the customer is interested to know, we want to give them knowledge about their purchase”, Mr. Mohammed says, and adds it is important for them to know what they are about to invest in. Presenting the example of treated precious stones – a practice that is accepted worldwide – he says it is necessary the customers know the difference between a natural and treated stone, or natural and cultured pearls in order for them to understand the jewellery item and its value better.
With a hands-on approach to working in the design department as well as working on special antique items himself for repairs, Mr. Mohammed expresses that one of the most rewarding element of having worked in the jewellery industry for over 60 years is that creative freedom it brings. As he watched the industry develop and evolve over the years, Mr. Mohammed says the one thing he would like to see rise again is diving for pearls. He adds that with today’s technology and modern equipment, it is easier to once again dive for pearls in a safer manner.
Whether it is the pearl, or traditional jewellery pieces that decorate a person’s looks, mark a special moment, or worn as an ode or in memory of someone special, jewellery has always played a significant part. The jewellery and gems of Bahrain play an eminent role in forming its rich heritage, culture, and history, and to this day is an important part of tradition.
Whether it is the traditional gold jewellery that is worn from head-to-toe, or jewellery made from pearls that has been passed on from one generation onto the next, or even the smaller pieces that have attracted the younger generation but still carries elements of the country’s heritage and tradition, Al Mannai Jewelery represents the core essence of The Kingdom’s love and passion towards jewellery, and has successfully carried the title of Bahrain’s renowned jewellers for over a century.
For more information:
Gate 6 Entrance, Moda Mall, Manama, Bahrain
(00973) 1753 3176 / 1753 3935
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