(CNN) — With a $3 billion price tag, the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi was said to be the most expensive hotel to have been built when it opened in 2005.
Its hallways, rooms and lobbies feature more than 1,000 Swarovski chandeliers, which bring to light the palace’s iconic golden ceilings, according to the palace.
But more than a decade after its grand opening, keeping the hotel’s opulence in suitable splendor for the travel set is a full-time job for Manoj Kuriakose, an engineer from Kerala in southern India — and an expensive endeavor for the hotel.
Kuriakose and his team are tasked with the upkeep of the 2,000 square meters (6,560 square feet) of ornate ceiling adorned with 22-carat gold and silver leaves.
The gold leaf typically lasts for just four to five years, according to the palace, and so it’s constantly being replaced.
The price of luxury
About 50 gold leaves are needed to cover one square meter of ceiling, at an approximate cost of $100.
Kuriakose replaces about four to six square meters of gold a day. The Palace wouldn’t comment on exact costs, but based on calculations made by CNN, it spends about $130,000 on gold leaf every year.
“Wherever you look, you can see the gold leaf and silver leaf,” Kuriakose says.
Thin sheets of pure gold are imported from Italy, then rolled, pressed and hammered between vellum, a fine parchment, until they become even finer.
Once the leaf is ready to be applied, the ceiling is prepared with a warm red base coat of paint.
Then a special glue is used to apply the gold leaf.
A new leaf
The team use their fingers to shape the delicate gold leaf.
“We fix the leaves one by one. It is very fragile, and you have to be very careful,” Kuriakose explains. “It is very thin, it can break. When you pick it up, if you’re not taking it carefully, and even your finger has the slightest movement, it can break.”
After the design is complete, the teams puts a final protective clear coating over the leaves to protect them.
“Guests see us and get excited,” he says of the delicate process. “They stop, they watch, they ask questions. They are very curious to get more information.”
With the hotel buildlings stretching more than one kilometer from east to west, Kuriakose describes the job as a “never ending process.”
“I’m sure there is no other hotel with this much area of gold leaf,” he adds.
Emirates Palace: West Corniche Road – United Arab Emirates; +971 2 690 9000