Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Unique Amulet for a Special Bride

A very rare, if not absolutely unique, made
for a highly honored bride

The painstaking design and fabrication that went into the this piece, the packing of the prayers into the box amulet, different from all the conventional q'tub form of amulet, the cabuchon red gemstone jewel, and the very highest quality silver and silversmithing show the honor offered the woman who wore this piece.  

This jewelry was also valued by the woman.  It is complete and well-preserved, deserving of a place in a museum.  I have not ever worn it, and probably will not ever wear it.  

For more information on this or any other piece in the album, you may send questions or comments on the blog post or email me at the address shown.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Why the Q'tub?

The Q'tub is the cylinder attached to the bottom of the plaque that 
organizes the 5 strands of the necklace.  

It functions as an amulet to hold prayers written on a small piece of thin rolled paper.  However, most amulets do not open, because it is easy to lose the separate piece on the opening end.  The amulet, therefore, in and of itself, stands for the prayers (usually for protection) of the wearer.  

Some amulets (q'tub) are fabricated with the prayer inside and then are closed permanently, so whoever the wearer is from that time on, the person is carrying a prayer within the amulet. Occasionally we find minute traces of the antique paper prayer, while most of it has simply deteriorated into particles.  The bells attached to the amulet tinkle very softly with the movement of the wearer.  They are also a symbol that the wearer is protected from evil forces.  

Some necklaces will be furnished with three or five (always an odd number) such amulets hanging from the bottom strand.  If they are good workmanship, they add to the beauty of the piece of jewelry.  

The small granulated beads that separate the coral are works of art in this piece.  The application of the granules of molten silver by means of a dabber can only be done by masters of the art, especially in pieces this small.  

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Source of the Silver

The Maria Theresa Coins were minted of high quality silver 
         in the hundreds of millions in Europe in the late 1700s. 

They were used by Europeans to buy Yemen coffee and tons of the silver became the bridewealth of the Yemeni peoples, Muslims and Jews.  Often the coins were simply provided with a loop and bells were dangled from them to then be sewed onto clothing or hung on a chain or cord and worn and used in the bridal dowery.  More often the coins were melted and worked by the Jewish silversmiths into the filigree and granulation motifs of Yemeni craftsmen.  

When the woman who owned the bridewealth passed on, whatever remained of the dowery was often melted down and new jewelry was fabricated from the silver.  So pieces of jewelry were traditional in design but most of the jewelry pieces were not many generations old, only the raw material grew older, was sometimes adulterated to make jewelry of great workmanship but of lower quality silver.   As Yemen's economy declined in relation to that of Europe, the  stretching of the quantity of silver was especially necessary.  Not so many Maria Theresa coins were available to the craftsmen.   For the individual craftsman, it was the quality of the workmanship that was important, and for the bride's father, it was the weight of raw material that was impressive.  So the jewelry continued to be made in abundance.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bracelets for the Bride

The Yemeni bride, if prosperous enough to own or to borrow bracelets, would have matching bracelets on both arms, arranged symmetrically from wrist to elbow.  You will find that some bracelets from Yemen will be very small in diameter.  Moreover, they are usually completely round, not really shaped for the human wrist.  They usually are fastened around the wrist by a hand-threaded screw or by a pin.  Some styles do not enclose the wrist but clamp lightly onto the wrist.

Child-size by American standards, but weighty in 
decorative elements all the way round the 

This very ornamental wedding bracelet has a twin that would be worn for the two most important ceremonies in a woman's life: her wedding and after each time she gave birth.  She would sit in bed surrounded with flowers and adorned in wedding finery while she received visitors during the celebration of each new birth.  

Apart from the important events that are marked by wearing this bracelet, it bears a second cultural significance.  The silversmith who made it signed it with his maker's mark on the most visible component of each of the matching bracelets: the roseate fastener.  For a better view of the signature, go to
click on the View Photos in the right column; you will get a screen showing the album of photos used for this blog.  Click to open the album and scroll to find this image.  Click to enlarge and you can see the Yemen Jewish silversmith's signature written in Arabic script.

We will be noting the signatures on the Yemeni jewelry now that you know to expect them.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Style Elements of Yemen Silver Jewelry

A Wedding Necklace for the Bride's Adornment

An assemblage of pieces of such jewelry as you see on the Yemen bride on the post of May 18, 2011 (see list of posts in left column).  The pieces are re-assembled by jewelry dealers from antique components collected from the village bazaars (suqs) in Yemen.  

The piece reflects the cultural fondness for the contrast between the cool sheen of silver and the warm glow of the organic coral beads.  The red coral beads are a rare find in Yemen nowadays.  The coral has become too expensive, and is often separated from the silver jewelry piece and sold by the gram at ten to twenty dollars per gram (28 grams=1ounce).

Apart from the rarity of the antique red coral, there is a characteristic of Yemen jewelry fabrication that is now another cultural artifact: the practice of decorating silver globe beads, amulets and end pieces with granulation.  Filigree is still practiced universally.  The photo below will illustrate:

Granulation and filigree are signature characteristics of 
jewelry made in certain regions of Yemen.

Filigree shows up in the hollow spherical beads spaced between the coral in the bottom row of beads and in the cylindrical hirz or amulet hanging below the plaque that divides the strands of beads.  You can see that in the spheres and cylinder that they have been built up in pieces and then the components soldered together.  The filigree is cut by hand while the sphere is a hemisphere and the cylinder is still in sections.  The flat oval pieces hanging from the hirz may be formed from wire that is curled into a pattern.  The small spheres that hang with the oval filigree look like sleigh bells, and they are fabricated for the same reason -- to make a pleasant sound as the wearer moves.  

The granules that decorate the plaque and the pieces that separate the coral beads in the upper four rows are formed in two ways: in some pieces they are dropped onto a base of silver while molten and form into tiny globular grains, or in the second method, very small beads called shot are soldered onto the base silver shape.  The art of dropping molten silver onto a silver base to allow them to meld is not used so much any more.  

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Marriage Celebration in Yemen

This bride is wearing her dowery, maybe 10 kilograms of silver.

One hundred years ago in Yemen, a young girl would grow up slender with small wrists but with outsize hands, because of the hard work which is begun when very young.  So her bracelets would be made small in diameter, while her rings would be larger than expected.  

When she had reached her puberty, she would be married to a man chosen by her father.  She would have a 2-week-long celebration, one week before the ceremony, then a week of celebration following the wedding.  For the ceremony, she would be literally loaded down with silver jewelry, as you see in the vignette above.  

If the jewelry is actually all hers, it would remain with her as her own property.  But often much of the jewelry is borrowed for the sake of appearances if the bride does not have such a large amount of silver.  

We will be discussing the components of the various jewelry pieces.  Their materials, methods of fabrication and how and where they are worn all tell something about the people who make them, own them and wear them. 

Purpose and Direction of this Blog

The artwork and handicraft discussed here will be aged anywhere from ca. 50,000 B. C. to ca. 1900 A. D.   From stone hand tools such as blades, flakes and axes to delicate silver and bead jewelry of the Middle East, Central Asia and Arabia.  I will try to provide photos of pieces under discussion on any given posted message.

The photo above is of a Yemen necklace made of finely handcrafted silver, not sterling, because the standard was not established in Yemen at the time.  Instead, the Jewish silversmiths of Yemen melted the coinage of Yemen in order to make the decorative pieces.  You can see a larger more detailed photo of the item at Antique Metal and Stone Arts Group on Facebook.

The next post will begin a sketch of the history and culture behind the production of this kind of jewelry.