A conversation with Audrey Tcherkoff, CEO of Robert Wan Middle East

Enrapturing Pearls

Known as the Tahitian Emperor of Pearls, Robert Wan has recently unveiled its latest line of jewellery: the Treasures of Robert Wan. The collection boasts a variety of sautoirs, bracelets and rings inspired by the magnificence of French Polynesia, and most specifically the island of Marutea; one of Wan’s favorite places, its lagoons yield some of the most precious and beautiful pearls in the world. The line was recently launched in Dubai coinciding with its debut in Paris and Shanghai. We catch up with Audrey Tcherkoff, CEO of Robert Wan Middle East to learn of the brand’s operations in the GCC and its ongoing penchant for the pearls of Tahiti.

Robert Wan is renowned for its market of Tahitian pearls. What is the story behind such pearls?

In 1973, Robert Wan saw the cultured pearl as the start of a fantastic adventure. It was at that time that he had decided to follow his desire to return to his homeland of French Polynesia. There he was immediately taken with the wealth of the area’s lagoons. Undoubtedly more than anyone before him, he saw ‘perliculture,’ or the art of Tahitian pearl culture, as a way of advancing French Polynesia and its treasures.
At the time, the government of French Polynesia had decided to invest in the cultured pearl. As a result, many entrepreneurs and scientists came to the island to try to develop the Tahitian cultured pearl. Starting from scratch, Robert Wan made it his mission to make the Tahitian cultured pearl the star of deluxe jewelry, or Haute Joaillerie. He nevertheless realized that the atolls, otherwise known as coral reefs, represented tremendous potential. Armed with advice from top experts, he began one of the pioneers of pearl production. Yet faced with illnesses and other difficult circumstances, it took years before the business became profitable. However, by the end of the 1970s, his artisan production became an organized Tahitian cultured pearl farm. Wan provided the necessary means of success by surrounding himself with the best scientists, grafters and specialists. But ultimately, it was his determination that contributed to the rise of Tahitian cultured pearl exports as the second biggest economic resource from French Polynesia.

What are the specific characteristics of the Tahitian pearl?

Tahitian cultured pearls are dark South Sea pearls and come mainly from farms in French Polynesia. They grow in the Cumingii species of the black-lipped Pinctada margaritifera oyster. Tahitian pearls display an exciting range of colors from dark grey to anthracite, green and aubergine. The metallic shine and changing shades of the Tahitian pearl are particularly characteristic. From mother-of-pearl to the cultured pearl, from Haute Joaillerie to science, Wan’s talents and interests are extensive. After 30 years, he believes more than ever in the development of the little ‘Poe Rava’, which in Tahitian means ‘the black pearl with the green reflections.’

How do you source the Tahitian pearls and how do you hope to market them in the Gulf?

We are the largest producer of Pearls in Tahiti producing across the strand of islands owned by Robert Wan. As such we are in full control of our supply chain since the inception of the market. Now internationally renowned, our pearls have found themselves adorned by some of the world’s most beautiful and powerful women. We have 10 stores worldwide in addition to distribution by our partners in the Middle East including Levant, Al Fardan and Damas.Now that the brand has been situated within the UAE for several years, how if at all, has Robert Wan been influenced by the rich history of pearl trading in the UAE?We have been influenced to the point that we are now investing in the revival of the region’s pearl heritage. The culture inspires not only our designs but our passion for creating Middle Eastern-born pearls.

Why did you decide to open up Robert Wan in Dubai specifically?

Dubai is the undisputed gateway to the Middle East with its ever-growing financial and commercial infrastructure. From this base we are perfectly positioned to grow organically within the wider Middle-East.

How do you find the UAE pearl industry today? What is missing?

The United Arab Emirates has a long history of pearl trading, but sadly lost its luster with the advent of the oil sector over the last thirty years. It is now missing structure and budget support from central institutions. We hope to see a strong drive to push the industry forward by all players over the next three years. It is nevertheless an exciting market with a lot of room for growth which allows us to play a significant role in shaping the UAE pearl industry going forward.