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Hajjar, the Arabian prince of Japanese pearls

Pierre Hajjar. (Supplied)
Pierre Hajjar. (Supplied)
Pierre Hajjar in a business meeting. (Supplied)
Pierre Hajjar in a business meeting. (Supplied)
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19 Oct 2021 03:10:23 GMT9
19 Oct 2021 03:10:23 GMT9

Nader Sammouri

Arab News Japan approached Sarkis Hajjar’s son, Pierre Hajjar, now 69, who took over his father’s legacy as a merchant of pearls.

Hajjar was born in Aleppo, Syria and lived in Beirut until he left for Japan at 19-years-old. He currently acts as the current director of his company, BelPearl

“When you grow in a different culture at such a young age, you can’t help but pick up influences from the new environment and learn a vast sum of skills including language, cultural expression, personal relationships and more. Immersing my mind in this different culture opened my realms to what is possible and what is not,” Hajjar remarked.

Hajjar faced numerous obstacles, especially relocating to a foreign country.

“The Japanese were reluctant to accept a young foreigner, especially the farmers that we worked with, so I had to find ways to manoeuvre their hard mentalities, and find common ground. In the end, I was working in their country, so it was up to me to adapt. Japanese farmers had strong values that don’t bend to the power of money. Like in most countries, people residing in the countryside tend to be more value-oriented than city side people who seem to lean more towards profit,” Hajjar commented.

Hajjar’s experience in Japan made him value quality over quantity, like the Japanese, and he started to stress the importance of sacrificing time to produce less quantity for more quality, detail and fine-tuning.

Cultural pearl is a product of human intervention as opposed to natural pearl. Hajjar saw that the Middle Easterners were drawn to its price, which was almost 10 percent of original pearls, so he began to export worldwide, especially to the Arab world from Yemen and Marrakesh, East Europe and beyond.

“It took 10 years for the Akoya Pearl Association to accept my application to join their pearl auctions. I used to apply every year and face relentless rejection. Once the association leader was replaced 10 years later, we were finally allowed access,” Hajjar explained.

Besides the culture, Hajjar dedicates a lot of what he learned from his father, who was his guide and mentor in business and life.

“My father, Sarkis, hailed from a low-income family and used to be a builder who cut rocks, hence “Hajjar” which means “Stone cutter” in Arabic, was attributed to him and passed on as a family name. Sarkis was a high performer, and he urged me to be one as well. He constantly encouraged me to aim high as he did,” Hajjar said, also naming his wife as a major source of support.

Hajjar was humble enough to admit that luck may have contributed to his success as well and attributes his success to a complex sum of factors that compounded, like the layers of secretions that create the pearl. He was in the right place at the right time, had the right mentor, an affirming partner and some luck.

Hajjar’s father built a reputation as a merchant of natural pearls in 1933, and began establishing links with Asian traders– eventually transforming a small workshop in Syria into a major pearl company in Japan. With Japan feeding 80 percent of the world’s pearl resources, the company ventured to settle at Kobe port, central Japan, just at the right time, something that prominently factored into the company’s success.

Biwa oysters, exclusive to Japan, are symbols of elegance living in shallow water surfaces, 1 to 5 meters below the surface, producing glistening pearls, 3 – 10mm, with unlikely colors varying from white, cream, pink and silver pink.

Oysters naturally use their silky crystal secretion, which is called nacre, to protect themselves against parasites. That glimmering discharge sediments and slowly forms the precious pearl. The uniqueness of pearl has been cherished since ancient times because opposed to other gemstones, they don’t require any special cutting or mending to capitalize on their natural glistening beauty.

Pearl may be a well-known gem, but cultured pearl is a whole new spectacle dominating the world’s production of pearls to reach its near-total recently.

A cultured pearl originates from a mussel or an oyster, with farming being a practice in which oysters are bred and raised in a controlled environment, essentially for their precious pearls. Cultured pearl was attributed to Kōkichi Mikimoto, who used to be a Japanese entrepreneur and who lead the industry with his brand, Mikimoto pearls.

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