COMMENTS ON SILVER JEWELRY
OF THE MIDDLE EAST

by Ann Garner
 

 Bokara belt from Afghanistan

The photographs that accompany this article show silver jewelry that was collected in the regions of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Anatolia, and South to Yemen.  The quality of these pieces inheres in the interesting designs and not in the purity of the silver.  This statement is generally true throughout this enormous geographic area.

These pieces are by and large jewelry for the working classes of this region.  It is quite common to see Nomads or vendor women in the bazaars liberally bedecked with this type of jewelry.

It is also true that a great deal of silver jewelry of this type apparently came onto the market during the time of the partition of Pakistan from India and the separation of Palestine into Israel and what is known as the West Bank. These events coincide with the annexation of parts of Central Asia by the U.S.S.R. in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

That being said, we need to mention the design characteristics that these pieces share.  Most of them are unsigned and not attributable to any certain artisan. The designs are often common in a certain region and simply are inherited and repeated over time. For this reason, a connoisseur can identify the region from which a piece most probably came.

 

Heavy bracelets with a gold wash applied over the silver can fairly safely be attributed to the Turkmen. Turkish silver workers in Anatolia also made such pieces because of the heritage that they share with the Turkmen of Turkmenistan (a former satellite state of the U.S.S.R.).  Coral also plays a large part in the jewelry of Central Asia such as settings in rings, beads and inlay on necklaces, and in bracelets and belts.

Turkmen bracelet

I found one interesting piece of ethnic silver in Jordon:  a delicate belt made of many filigree ornaments, with coins decorating the ends.  It can also be worn as a piece that decorates the yoke of a dress, or as a necklace.

Jordon belt

Pakistan contributes a great deal of silver jewelry to this mix,but I found only one piece interesting enough to mention here.  It is a heavy silver choker, wound round each end with heavy silver wire and fastening in a massive latch.

choker collected in Pakistan

But Yemen is a story unto itself. The silver jewelry of Yemen is integrally tied to the massive movement of peoples in the late 1940s and early 1950s.  In Yemen, over the decades and perhaps centuries leading up to that period, most of the silver jewelry was made by the Jewish citizens of that country.

With the creation of the nation of Israel in 1948, almost all, if not every single one of the jewelers left Yemen and emigrated to Israel; however, they left their stamp--literally--on the silver ornaments of their native country.

The motifs in the worked pieces of the Yemeni jewelry are distinctive.  The silversmiths of the first half of the twentieth century in Yemen favored the process of granulation. This requires silver of the correct temperature to be applied to a surface, resulting in tiny beads of silver rising in relief from the surface of the basic shape of the piece.  The more detailed pieces show these "beads" arranged as grape clusters or other fanciful designs.

Yemen bead

The jewelers used a combination of simple geometric shapes (cylinders, lozenges, spheres and flat circles), in some cases formed by or connected by filigree work,and decorated with granulation on the surface.  Amulets, bracelets and yokes (long chains of baubles to be hung at the neckline of a dress), and chokers (short necklaces worn against the throat) form their repertoire.  No doubt these jewelers made silver rings, but I do not have one in my collection.

Yemen amulet

Yemen choker

Yemen choker

Yemen globes

One other feature distinguishes the work of the Yemeni jewelers. Some of the pieces have signatures of Hebrew names written in Arabic script, showing at once the ethnicity (Jewish) and the langauge of the country (Yemen Arabic).  The concept of signing a piece of jewelry is rare in the Middle East in the early twentieth century, yet one should always examine a piece of Yemeni jewelry of that period for a characteristic daub of silver into which has been engraved or stamped the signature of the jeweler.

Yemen earrings

 

 

Yemen pendant