Hidden Treasures: The jewelry of Saudi Arabia goes on display in Dubai

Two royal items in the exhibition: (left) A malachite, gold and diamond brooch gifted to Princess Ceeta Al-Dammer, wife of the late King Khalid; and a diamond ring belonging to one of King Abdul Aziz’s daughters. (Supplied photos)
Updated 31 March 2019

Hidden Treasures: The jewelry of Saudi Arabia goes on display in Dubai

  • The items are on display in Dubai for the first time in an exhibition organized by L’École Van Cleef & Arpels
  • The pieces in the Art of Heritage collection reflect the history and lifestyle of various tribes and regions

DUBAI: More than 300 priceless items of jewelry from Saudi Arabia, from Bedouin belts to the brooch of a princess, went on display for the first time in Dubai this weekend, telling the story of the Arabian Peninsula as a crossroads of civilizations and influences.

The pieces in “Hidden Treasures: Jewelry from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” represent just a fifth of the collection that the Art of Heritage group in Riyadh has been assembling and preserving for more than 30 years, comprising artwork, crafts and objects that reflect the history and lifestyle of various Saudi tribes and regions since the 19th century. With another collection from Art of Heritage being exhibited in Bahrain until May, there is talk about its pieces forming the basis of a museum.

“You’ll get to see just how diverse and varied Arab culture and identity is, and how each piece is an exchange and an interpretation of places, ideas and customs,” Pramod Kumar KG, the curator of the exhibit, said at Thursday’s opening in the Dubai Design District. The exhibit was organized by the French jewelry design school L’Ecole Van Cleef & Arpels.

Each piece, with exquisite details, tells the story of identity and diversity. While the pieces were worn by women in Saudi Arabia, they reflect influences from all over — from coiled, Celtic-style bangles to abstract African designs, Egyptian snake-design bracelets, and shimmering cascades of Indian and Austrian coins. “From the works of the pilgrims that came to Makkah and stayed on and created different crafts … to the goods and influences from the trade routes that passed through, to the newer styles and creations by designers in the Kingdom, the Art of Heritage Museum, when it opens, will be one of a kind,” said Kumar KG.

Art of Heritage was established as a cultural trust, and its objects include jewelry, textiles and garments, carpets, furnishings, ethnographic material, wooden doors, books and manuscripts, maps, photos, audio and video recordings, and printed ephemera.

The trust aims to promote research and study while fostering the revival of Saudi art, craft and culture among newer generations.

Since its establishment in 1986, the collection continues to expand under the guidance of its board, led by Princess Sara Al-Faisal bin Abdul Aziz, Princess Moudi bint Khalid, Princess Haifa Al-Faisal and Princess Basma bint Majid bin Abdul Aziz.

The exhibit demonstrates that besides their role as decorative objects, women’s adornments tell a vast story of connections that reached the very heart of Arabia and amalgamated with existing traditions. “We also wanted to show how Arab culture, as retold through jewelry, is more than just an Islamic culture; it’s very rich, very diverse and very old,” said Kumar KG.

A pair of unique gold tasseled earrings from 1920 illustrates the amount of intricate detail that went into Egyptian-inspired design: A tipped hook with lower registers of filigree, pearl circlets, bezel-set stones, and a conical middle with delicate floral and crescent-shaped tassels embedded with turquoise and ending in dangling pearls.

Traditionally, turquoise stone has been associated with providing protection against the “evil eye” or hasad (envy), and the pearls with femininity and eliteness.

A 1940 ring of gold, silver and diamonds that once belonged to a daughter of the founder of Saudi Arabia, King Abdul Aziz, is an example of the early modern influence of Europe on the Kingdom, with diamonds as a stone of choice instead of the more commonly used coral, turquoise or glass. The ring is also a design innovation with its use of multiple gem setting styles.

A necklace from 1950 of silver, coins, glass and cotton, known as Iqd, has three cylindrical charm pendants that often carried verses from the Holy Qur’an as protection for the wearer.

Connected to red glass beads with dangling tiny silver tassels, the Maria Theresa Thaler coins, with an image of the empress, were renowned worldwide for their purity of silver, and so were frequently used in jewelry across the Arab world.

Another royal piece that is sure to capture the attention of anyone who sees it is a 1970 brooch that was exclusively designed and gifted to Princess Ceeta Al-Dammer, wife of the late King Khalid. The country’s emblem of crossed swords topped by a date palm, adopted in 1950, is made of gold and diamonds, and is mounted on a green malachite, a color that symbolizes paradise, life and hope in Islam.

Allegiance to Saudi Arabia is usually demonstrated by emblazoning the emblem on garments and textiles by way of embroidery. Common Islamic motifs include the crescent moon, stars and geometric designs, along with calligraphic Arabic words and verses. 

The French jewelry design school L’Ecole Van Cleef & Arpels, which organized the exhibit. (Supplied photo)

On the second floor of the exhibit, the powerful impact of what women wore can be felt as the jewelry in all its weight is draped on the busts of blackened mannequins. The faceless figures allow the visitors to imagine themselves wearing the headpieces, from a 1940 black turban of wool, silver and coral — where the talismanic coral rings were added or removed depending on the wearer’s financial wherewithal — to burqas and caps with tassels and embroidery.

“Women were proud of who they were, and they wore it for everyone to see. They maintained and nurtured cultural traditions, and passed them down to their children through their jewelry,” said Kumar KG.

There is also an impressive early-20th-century bridal collection of gold, ruby and precious stones, with an almost shield-like gold necklace and elaborate bangles ending with chains of gold linked to finger rings that would have made any bride shine.

While what they wore made them stand out, one interesting feature in most of the jewelry was tiny bells that alerted others to the presence of women nearby.

It was tradition for men to avert their gaze as a woman passed to respect her presence. At the same time, it was bound to create a sense of allure as one heard a woman pass yet was unable to look at her.

This exhibit is one of four organized by L’Ecole Van Cleef & Arpels that are currently on at the space in the Dubai Design District.

The others are “Pearl Merchants: A Rediscovered Saga between the Gulf and France at the Dawn of the 20th Century”; “Precious Art Deco Objects,” a selection of boxes from the collection of Prince and Princess Sadruddin Aga Khan; and “The Fabulous Destiny of Tavernier’s Diamonds,” a display of replicas of 20 exceptional diamonds sold in the 17th century to French King Louis XIV.

The exhibits are being offered along with courses in jewelry history and design, talks and movie screenings. “We are, beyond doubt, extremely happy to open the doors to the public and look forward to engaging with them on this creative art of jewelry journey,” Marie Vallanet-Delhom, the school’s president, said in a statement before the show.

“The varied range of free activations will provide unique experiences under the tutelage of well-known experts, which will broaden your horizon and knowledge of discovering the enamoring world of fine jewelry.”

Besides the cultural and historic significance, “Hidden Treasures: Jewelry from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” demonstrates the beauty and craftsmanship found in the smallest and most timeless of objects. 


On April 11, there will be a special talk on the exhibit at 6:30 p.m. at Hai D3 in the Dubai Design District.


Apollo 11 astronaut returns to launch pad 50 years later

Updated 17 July 2019

Apollo 11 astronaut returns to launch pad 50 years later

  • Michael Collins marked the precise moment — 9:32 a.m. on July 16, 1969 — that the Saturn V rocket blasted off
  • President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to put a man on the moon by the end of 1969 took eight years to achieve

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida: Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins returned Tuesday to the exact spot where he flew to the moon 50 years ago with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.
Collins had the spotlight to himself this time — Armstrong has been gone for seven years and Aldrin canceled. Collins said he wished his two moonwalking colleagues could have shared the moment at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A, the departure point for humanity’s first moon landing.
“Wonderful feeling to be back,” the 88-year-old command module pilot said on NASA TV. “There’s a difference this time. I want to turn and ask Neil a question and maybe tell Buzz Aldrin something, and of course, I’m here by myself.”
At NASA’s invitation, Collins marked the precise moment — 9:32 a.m. on July 16, 1969 — that the Saturn V rocket blasted off. He was seated at the base of the pad alongside Kennedy’s director, Robert Cabana, a former space shuttle commander.
Collins recalled the tension surrounding the crew that day.
“Apollo 11 ... was serious business. We, crew, felt the weight of the world on our shoulders. We knew that everyone would be looking at us, friend or foe, and we wanted to do the best we possibly could,” he said.
Collins remained in lunar orbit, tending to Columbia, the mother ship, while Armstrong and Aldrin landed in the Eagle on July 20, 1969, and spent 2 ½ hours walking the gray, dusty lunar surface.
A reunion Tuesday at the Kennedy firing room by past and present launch controllers — and Collins’ return to the pad, now leased to SpaceX — kicked off a week of celebrations marking each day of Apollo 11’s eight-day voyage.
In Huntsville, Alabama, where the Saturn V was developed, some 4,900 model rockets lifted off simultaneously, commemorating the moment the Apollo 11 crew blasted off for the moon. More than 1,000 youngsters attending Space Camp counted down ... “5, 4, 3, 2, 1!” — and cheered as the red, white and blue rockets created a gray cloud, at least for a few moments, in the sky.
The US Space and Rocket Center was shooting for an altitude of at least 100 feet (30 meters) in order to set a new Guinness Book of World Records. Apollo 15 astronaut Al Worden helped with the mass launching. Also present: all three children of German-born rocket genius Wernher von Braun, who masterminded the Saturn V.
“This was a blast. This was an absolute blast,” said spectator Scott Hayek of Ellicott City, Maryland. “And, you know, what a tribute — and, a visceral tribute — to see the rockets going off.”
Another spectator, Karin Wise, of Jonesboro, Georgia, was 19 during Apollo 11 and recalled being glued to TV coverage.
“So, to bring my grandchildren here for the 50 anniversary, was so special,” she said. “I hope they’re around for the 100th anniversary.”
At the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum in Washington, the spacesuit that Armstrong wore went back on display in mint condition, complete with lunar dust left on the suit’s knees, thighs and elbows. On hand for the unveiling were Vice President Mike Pence, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Armstrong’s older son, Rick. Armstrong died in 2012.
A fundraising campaign took just five days to raise the $500,000 needed for the restoration. It was taken off display 13 years ago because it was deteriorating, said museum curator Cathleen Lewis. It took four years to rehab it.
Calling Armstrong a hero, Pence said “the American people express their gratitude by preserving this symbol of courage.”
Back at Kennedy, NASA televised original launch video of Apollo 11, timed down to the second. Then Cabana turned his conversation with Collins to NASA’s next moonshot program, Artemis, named after the twin sister of Greek mythology’s Apollo. It seeks to put the first woman and next man on the lunar surface — the moon’s south pole — by 2024. President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to put a man on the moon by the end of 1969 took eight years to achieve.
Collins said he likes the name Artemis and, even more, likes the concept behind Artemis.
“But I don’t want to go back to the moon,” Collins told Cabana. “I want to go direct to Mars. I call it the JFK Mars Express.”
Collins noted that the moon-first crowd has merit to its argument and he pointed out Armstrong himself was among those who believed returning to the moon “would assist us mightily in our attempt to go to Mars.”
Cabana assured Collins, “We believe the faster we get to the moon, the faster we get to Mars as we develop those systems that we need to make that happen.”
About 100 of the original 500 launch controllers and managers on July 16, 1969, reunited in the firing room Tuesday morning. The crowd also included members of NASA’s next moon management team, including Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, launch director for the still-in-development Space Launch System moon rocket. The SLS will surpass the Saturn V, the world’s most powerful rocket to fly to date.
Blackwell-Thompson said she got goosebumps listening to the replay of the Apollo 11 countdown. Hearing Collins’ “personal account of what that was like was absolutely amazing.”
The lone female launch controller for Apollo 11, JoAnn Morgan, enjoyed seeing the much updated- firing room. One thing was notably missing, though: stacks of paper. “We could have walked to the moon on the paper,” Morgan said.
Collins was reunited later Tuesday with two other Apollo astronauts at an evening gala at Kennedy, including Apollo 16 moonwalker Charlie Duke, who was the capsule communicator in Mission Control for the Apollo 11 moon landing. Only four of the 12 moonwalkers from 1969 through 1972 are still alive: Aldrin, Duke, Apollo 15’s David Scott and Apollo 17’s Harrison Schmitt.
Among the gala attendees: Eight former shuttle astronauts, including Mark Kelly and his wife, former US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and “space lover” and aspiring space tourist Vesa Heilala, 52, who traveled from Helsinki to Florida for the anniversary.
“I had to come here because in Finland we don’t have rockets and we don’t have astronauts for 50 years,” said Heilala, who was collecting astronaut autographs on his colorful propeller cap.
Huntsville’s rocket center also had a special anniversary dinner Tuesday night, with some retired Apollo and Skylab astronauts and rocket scientists. Aldrin was set to attend but was traveling Tuesday and likely wouldn’t make it on time, a center official said.
Aldrin, 89, hosted a gala in Southern California last Saturday.
NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs said Aldrin bowed out of the Florida launch pad visit, citing his intense schedule of appearances. Aldrin and Collins may reunite in Washington on Friday or Saturday, the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s moon landing.