The Desert Rose of Qatar

DOHA, Qatar — In recent years the desert rose has become a kind of national emblem here.

Yet this rose is no rose at all, but a convergence of sand, seawater and the gypsum or barite crystals found in the salt basins that dot this peninsula and a few other desert areas around the world. The intricate formation, which got its name because its flat crystals resemble petals, is sold as souvenirs for as little as 100 Qatari rial (about $27) in such touristy places as the Souk Waqif in Doha.

But the shape inspired the eye-popping design of the National Museum of Qatar, which opened in 2019 and was designed by the Pritzker-winning French architect Jean Nouvel. And more recently it has captured the imaginations of two local jewelry-designing sisters as well as the Swiss luxury jewelry house Boghossian.

“My sister and I were inspired by our Qatari heritage, culture, the environment and the Islamic world,” said Noora Al Meadadi, who founded Thameen Jewellery in 2018 with her sister Mariam Al Meadadi. Their Desert Rose collection includes pieces such as the Bangle, a 23-karat gold bracelet with two diamond-accented roses.

“We were so inspired by the desert rose and this magnificent building,” Noora Al Meadadi said during an interview at the national museum’s (appropriately named) Desert Rose Cafe. “And I really believe that when people come here and see the museum they get inspired, too.”

The desert rose is found only in the countries of the Persian Gulf region, northern Africa and parts of the United States, and often with different names such as the sand rose or Sahara rose.

But unlike those other countries, Qatar has a deeper connection to the desert rose because of its tiny landscape and lack of geographic diversity.

“Other places where the desert rose occurs, like Tunisia and the United States, have forests and mountains as a symbol of their country,” said Ahmad Abushaikha, a professor of geoscience and engineering at Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Qatar. “But here in Qatar we don’t have that. Most of the country is a desert, so the desert rose gets us closer to a national identity.”

Dr. Abushaikha also said that Qatar is an ideal nurturing ground for the desert rose, given its distinct climate and exposure to water on three sides.

“There needs to be a shallow salt basin, or sabkha in Arabic, in a desert,” he said. “After the salt basin evaporates, the gypsum, a salt, attracts the sands to form the plates that are the desert rose. During evaporation, these sand grains cluster together and are glued together because of the sediments.”

The clusters are too fragile to be used in jewelry, and were difficult to render in gold and silver, Ms. Al Meadadi said.

“It’s not like creating just the shape of a flower,” she said. “It’s about making it look like a stone that is shaped like a flower. It had to have specific texture. It took a lot of sketches to get the final shape.”

The collection, sold online and at the sisters’ boutique in the national museum, ranges in price from 25,000 Qatari rial for the gold choker with a 1.35-carat diamond to 2,000 Qatari rial for the silver cuff links, designed for the thawb (pronounced “thobe”), the traditional gownlike attire of men in Qatar and neighboring Arab countries.

“The cuff link is what makes the thawb more formal because there is not a lot of difference between day wear and formal wear for men,” Ms. Al Meadadi said. “And the flower shape of the desert rose isn’t considered feminine to men here. It is a national symbol of pride.”

The sisters themselves are proud that their jewelry is produced entirely in Qatar. “It’s very challenging in Doha because we still don’t have a lot of jewelry production here, but I don’t want to go outside the country,” Ms. Al Meadadi said. “I wanted to produce them here. We do all our production in Doha at the old souk with one jewelry maker in his workshop.”

During her travels outside Qatar, she said, she has been struck by how different jewelry making is in other countries. “When I went to Turkey, there is a huge focus on how jewelry is created, but here in Qatar it’s only about having the same international brands,” she said. “I hope in the future that changes.”

Boghossian, the luxury jeweler based in Geneva, introduced a capsule collection of desert rose jewelry in May 2022 at the annual Doha Jewellery and Watches Exhibition. It used a single piece of pink guava quartz from Brazil, carved to resemble the crystal formation and detailed with diamonds for sparkle, like the way the desert sun reflects off a rose’s crystals.

“We had to carve into a single piece of guava quartz, so there was a lot of trial and research, and it took about a year to develop,” Roberto Boghossian, a managing partner, said in a phone interview from Geneva. “We had to experiment a lot, and we are still working on perfecting the size of each item. We are coming up with a smaller size on earrings and ring, and there will also be a pendant.”

The ring is made of almost 60 carats of guava quartz, accented with diamonds and mounted on an 18-karat white and rose gold band. The earrings are made of a total of almost 74 carats of guava quartz and also accented with diamonds. Prices are available upon request.

“The actual desert rose sparkles in the sun, so we wanted to try to replicate this phenomenon with the diamonds inlay,” he said. “We are setting it in an upside-down way to bring another dimension with more depth. We wanted to give it this bit of a kick.”

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