Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Exceptional Silver Crafts among Yemenite Jewish Silversmiths

This piece is the example par excellence of the exception in design, in symbols and in the shape and intent of the silver crafts in Southern Arabia among the Jewish community who influenced the other cultures in that area with their ornamental design.  

While East Asia jewelry artisans were creating ornamental art in fantastic jade carvings, and Central Asia was creating amulets of great size with layers of gold over silver, the craftsmen of the Southwest region of Asia were creating intricate wire decoration that came to be called Bawsani style filigree. both open work and inlaid filigree.  

This is an amulet of importance, still containing the prayers inside.  Here is the fuller story from my website.

This magnificent old Yemen silver filigree necklace still contains the tiny booklet of prayers and blessings that it was meant to contain. The top panel slides and allows the book to be removed if the owner wishes to do so. I have never touched the sheaf of bound papers on which the blessings are written. I have only looked at them for the purpose of describing this precious cultural artifact from a vanished culture. 

The sliding top panel results in a slightly asymmetric sett to the loops to which the Bawsani bead chain is attached. The maker of the panel needed part of the link to make a lip at the right-hand side in order to easily grasp the panel and slide it open. The asymmetric sett does not prevent hanging the amulet straight while wearing it. 

Back to my mention of a vanished culture in the previous paragraph. This piece is the result of the excellent skill of the Yemen Jewish silversmiths. This piece in particular is a prime example of that style of silversmithing. But by 1948, all the Yemen Jewish silversmiths had emigrated to Israel, a new state at that time. Once they were gone, the Yemeni people continued to value the thousands of beautiful pieces of jewelry that remained in the nation of Yemen. Our family began our collection of these outstanding cultural treasures in 1976 and continued to collect them until a few years ago. 

This prayer amulet necklace is one of the finest pieces of jewelry in our collection of antique prayer amulets and Bawsani beads from Yemen. Now to explain just a bit about the name Bawsani. It refers to the House of Baws, or Beit Baws, a community of silversmiths near Sana'a, the capital of Yemen. They developed a very high level of skill in creating intricate filigree, both open work and filigree. This amulet necklace includes three of the styles in which the House of Baws created silver filigree. 

First the inlay on the prayer amulet. You will not find better work in this genre in the world at any time. Just look at the detail. While I am describing the precious amulet, I have to point out the carnelian gemstone in the center. It is the highly prized Yemen agate that is commonly used in ring settings. At first I thought it was glass, but I have determined that it is the blood red carnelian that the Yemenis prize so highly. The gem, whether glass or stone is a perfectly formed cabochon, highly polished and deep blood red. The inlay surrounding it enhances its beauty. The tiny floral design is typical of some of the finest filigree inlay produced for wedding jewelry in Yemen of that time. 

Secondly consider the Bawsani bead pendants that dangle from the bottom and sides of this prayer amulet. The top row of the pendants consists of round open wire filigree beads that match the twelve beads that form the side chains. From those, the silversmith hung tiny Bawsani beads with their peculiar elliptical shapes in open wire work. These hang also from the sides of the prayer amulet. They have become very rare to find on beaded jewelry that remains in Yemen. 

Third are the classic Bawsani style filigree beads; in this piece they are the twelve round open wire filigree beads that form chains to which the prayer amulet is attached. They are highly valued among collectors. To them, the Yemeni designer of this necklace attached small plain surfaced beads which is a common practice. 

The end pieces on this necklace are beauties themselves. They were probably made by a different silversmith. At each end of the terminals there are very small pentagonal beads that are called berry beads, because they are made with openwork granulation. Globules of silver are fused together while still soft to form this delicate and also very highly prized beads. The chain is a typical Yemen chain and has the obligatory male fertility symbols attached to a bridal dowry necklace. 

This necklace with its prayer amulet including prayers and the abundance of Bawsani filigree is complete, original and in very good condition. 

Your inquiries are invited. We can arrange a lay-away plan if you prefer, a plan whereby you choose the schedule and amount you will pay in installments, and I will ship the necklace when the last payment is received. 

Necklace = 25 in (50 cm) long.
Amulet = 3.5 in x 5 in (9 cm x 13 cm) including attachements