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The uniqueness and almost universal appeal of pearls are best explained by two facts: they are the only gems produced by living organisms, and they need no cutting or polishing. The warm waters of the Gulf produced highly prized, colourful pearls with incredible lustre and luminosity, and local merchants traded them with their counterparts from afar, often in barter for other goods like wood. In the economically depressed emirates of the early 1900s, pearl diving was an important source of revenue. More than 1,200 boats carried over 20,000 men for each annual pearling season. This business collapsed in the 1920s with the invention of cultured pearls, which combined with the global depression of the 1930s to destroy the Gulf’s pearling industry, causing great hardship which was only alleviated with the arrival of the oil companies in the 1950s.