Thursday, September 22, 2011

Turkoman Gold on Silver Technique

Unlike a simple gold wash, the Turkoman technique endures for more than  a century, we know from personal experience.   A gold *washing* applied to silver will wear away over time, leaving only a soft glow to the silver piece that has developed patina in the thinly covered spots.   The Turkoman gold-on-silver jewelry in my collection remains resplendent after a hundred years.  

The Turkoman silversmith began with the purest silver available in the form of ingots imported from Russia in general.  At the least they would use melted coins from neighboring countries, standard 0.900 coin silver.  The work then began at the clay hearth built by the metal worker.  The handmade furnace would be fanned with a bellows by an apprentice, usually a pre-teen boy in training to become a silversmith.  The bellows were made of goatskin.  The smithy used simple hand tools, often handmade: a press, pliers, gouges, chisels, punches, hammers, anvils and prybars.  

With this, he could make intricate pieces, heavy in tribal symbolism, paying respect to the mountain, ancestors, and other aspects of his worldview.  The pieces such as the pendant above were made for women, girls and even the children of the tribe.  Men wore silver belts, breastplates, ornate fasteners for their chapans (cloaks), and silver sheaths for daggers.  They also furnished their horses with silver decoration on the blankets and bags hanging on the horses.  

Almost all the Turkoman silver that shows up in present-day collections has some gilding (golding) on it.  Gilding is accomplished with the use of fire.  Thin gold plates are heated red hot and mixed with other metals to stabilize the gold and keep it workable.  Chemicals and minerals are used to prepare the silver surface in the areas that are to be gilded.  Then the gold mixture is rubbed carefully and patiently into the amalgam on the surface of the silver.  The piece of jewelry is then heated again to meld the gold and silver just at the surface of the piece.  Lots of patient heating and rubbing is required for each piece.  In the 150 years record of making such pieces, there must have been at least a million hours spent in preparing these lovely and culturally important pieces, now disappearing into museums and private collections.

Reference: Dieter and Reinhold Schletzer, Old Silver Jewellery of the Turkoman, 1983.


  1. I think fire gilding was a particularly dangerous way of embellishing the silver due to possibility of inhaling harmful fumes.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Thank you very much for your nice comment.