Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Restoring a Yemen Dowry Necklace

Restoring an antique relic of a vanished culture is intimidating.  Fortunately, I had access to appropriate jewelry elements that my family had collected through the years.  Here is a close up view of the final restoration of a Yemen dowry necklace.

$760.00 U.S.   CONTACT ME for invoice or for more information by using the private message form above left.

All the ornate bead caps, the signed starburst pattern large hollow silver beads and the Bedihi beads as well as the necklace terminals had been preserved, but the faturan or synthetic amber beads that had rested between the caps and the small separator beads, typically of coral, were no longer with the silver  components.  

Here is a more complete view of the now finished bridal dowry necklace from Yemen in the period around 1900 or a bit later.   I searched through my collection of faturan amber beads to find the ones that fit the ornate bead caps.  I find the European bakelite beads of that era very appealing, as did the jewelers of Yemen in the period of 1920 to 1940.  These particular synthetic amber beads were made in the late 1900s, but they were appropriate in color and size and could be used to good effect in restoring this fine piece of Yemen jewelry.  

The small translucent agate beads are from Yemen.  The people of Yemen had prized agate beads from ancient times; the small cloudy gems harmonize culturally with the other beads and serve as  buffers between the ornate silver pieces.  By happenstance, I had an appropriate silver chain on which to hang my restored necklace. 

The old starburst beads show that the necklace on which they originally hung was worn a long time.  The signatures of the maker or makers are quite worn, but still recognizable as the archaic Arabic alphabet that was still being used in Yemen at that time.  

In the close up view above, you see the faint stamped cartouches of the silversmith who made that particular bead.  Also note the cloudy translucent Yemen agate beads and the very special and now rare Bedihi beads.  While you are viewing this close up, don't overlook the exquisite terminals on this necklace.  They are gems in themselves.  

$760.00 U.S.   CONTACT ME for invoice or for more information by using the private message form above left.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Yemen Silver Jewelry with New Beads

When lovely old pieces of jewelry are separated from their original adornment, they can still be made the focus of a new creation in the old tradition or in a modern translation, as it were.  In this design, I kept the old tradition of making a kirdan or dowry necklace in the same form and with materials that would have been available at the time the original pieces were made.

The focus of the this design is a fantastically intricate plaque and hirz or mezuzah combination made by a Jewish silversmith in Yemen in the early 1900s.

Antique Yemen Silver mezuzah with four strands of modern coral
$650.00 U.S. CONTACT ME for invoice or for more information using the private message form above left. 

The amulet - or mezuzah or hirz - became an orphan piece of fine ethnic silver workmanship. The same had happened to the plaque on which the small amulet now hangs. So my first task in assembling this piece was to attach the amulet onto the plaque which had lost its central loops on which its amulet had hung. So I used heavy gauge sterling silver filled wire to repair the loss of the loops.  Now the mezuzah hangs straight and secure on the bottom of the plaque.  The decorations on each piece match very well, with their heavily granulated silver surface.  

Full view of antique Yemen silver mezuzah necklace 
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The next task was to find compatible beads of silver with a patina of age to match the antique silver of the ethnic Yemeni Jewish silver. I found some old silver separator bead from Yemen in my ethnic bead collection and that problem was settled. Next, I found my stash of some old silver over brass accent beads from India. 

But then I had to find enough of the customary size of coral that the Yemenites had strung on their kirdan necklaces. The kirdan was part of the bridal dowry and the bride would wear it on her wedding day and at family celebrations. I started pawing through my bead trays again. Voila! I found dyed red Pacific coral beads in exactly the same size and shape that had been used in the traditional Yemeni bridal kirdan necklaces with their multiple strands of Mediterranean coral. 

Next I wanted some neutral colors to cool down the intensity of the very red coral so that it did not overpower the glow of the old silver. For that I chose two different sizes of natural beads in black and white: black onyx and white bone beads. I also added two Indian agate eye beads in natural bands of black and white. 

So as not to overweigh the wearer of the necklace, but to make it large and imposing as the kirdans were made, I reduced the side strands of the necklace to just two. I connected the four strand section to the side sections with hand made sterling silver filled figure 8 loops. The chain is a handmade chain from Yemen, including the old handmade figure 8 loop fastener. 

This is a fantastic kirdan style necklace with genuine antique ethnic silver included. You can make a spectacular entrance wearing this with dress-up or jeans. 

Measurements: Necklace length: 24 inches (61 cm)
Plaque and amulet: 2 in x 3 in (5 cm x 8 cm)

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$650.00 U.S. CONTACT ME for invoice or for more information using the private message form above left.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Yemen Silver Wheel Beads with Maker Signature

Signed by Yemenite Silversmith: a Pair of Silver Granulated Wheel Beads

Signed Silver Antique Yemen Wheel Beads Apparently from Same Workshop

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The intricate silversmithing on this traditional style of Yemen wheel beads is outstanding.  In the photograph below, you see the construction of the rows of granulation that become a usually perfectly round bead.  The beads are made to fit as bead caps for large amber beads or to fit together edge to edge on a kirdan or bridal dowry necklace.

On this particular pair of wheel beads, the signature and the manner of placing the signature inside the granulated silver wheel beads are similar, or identical in my view, thus leading me to believe these two fantastic old beads were made by the same Yemen Jewish silversmith some time in the late 1930s or early 1940s. 

Here is an illustration of how Yemen granulated silver wheel beads can be used with large amber resin beads: 

Antique Yemen Silver Hirz Amulet and Beads All Signed by Silversmith

$975  U.S.   CONTACT ME for invoice or for more information.  Use the private message form above left.

Here is a photo of all the signed beads and signed amulet on the necklace above: 

Below is an illustration of how the Yemen granulated wheel beads fit with large coral beads.  They will fit closely as bead caps as well as being separated by smaller beads:

Old Yemen Silver Wheel Bead with Coral, Amber, Bone Beaded Necklace

$65  U.S.   CONTACT ME for invoice or for more information.  Use the private message form above left.

These signed wheel beads add value to your collection of Yemen silver and they can be worn on a chain or cord as single beads. They look best when strung with copal amber or amber resin beads in any shade from lemon to deep caramel brown or with large coral beads. 

Measurements: 1 inch = 25 mm
18 mm diam x 12 mm height

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Saturday, June 28, 2014

A Glowing Gem from the Yemen Desert

Yemen has a rich and fertile gulf coast once with high traffic due to the coffee and frankincense trade.  But much of the country that stretches toward the interior has become an impassable desert known as The Empty Quarter.  But the Bedouins know the way from oasis to oasis around the fringe of the ocean of sand and more sand. The finger of one of those Bedouin women once wore this fine flat cut brilliant red glass gem in her silver ring -  probably more than one generation of Yemen Bedouin women wore it:

Yemen Silver Bedouin Ornamental Ring with Red Glass Flat Cut Gem

Here are some more views of this fine old ethnic jewelry: 

Here is a photo of the Empty Quarter -- the desert that I wrote about in the introduction to the Yemen Bedouin ring.  

 Here you see where this Empty Quarter is located, partly in Yemen and partly in Saudi Arabia. 

It does look entirely empty! 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Orphan Beads Find a Home

Antique Famous Bawsani Silver Filigree Bead 

by Yemenite Silversmith

Using components from older jewelry is no new enterprise.  From ancient times, later settlers moved onto the rubble of previous communities and picked up the stones and other baubles made by the people of the vanished culture and made adornments from them.  Pieces of obsidian, polished agate eye beads, animal tooth ivory and carved bones and shells were gathered on a string and became a kind of wealth for the finder.

Modern artisans can easily follow the tradition.  My own collection of valuable orphan beads and pendants comes from Yemen, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan.  Yemen pieces have become extremely rare in these times, because (1)  there was a limited amount of such jewelry left behind in Yemen when the Jewish silversmiths moved to Israel in the 1940s and (2) the political situation at present is so unstable that it is difficult to carry on international commerce.  Here is one of the famous Bawsani beads that I salvaged from a Yemen dress yoke that had become so ragged that the beads were falling from it.

Antique Famous Bawsani Silver Filigree Bead by Yemenite Silversmith

These old beads from vanished cultures such as the Yemenite communities of Jewish artisans can be used to great effect in modern creations.  I can offer an example of an orphan bead that I have used in a contemporary design of a necklace here: 

Antique Yemen Silver Bead on Amber and Turquoise Stone Beaded Necklace

There are two sections of my online studio/shop that show orphan stones, shells, glass, resin and metalwork beads from antique times and from ancient ages.  Among the complete jewelry designs there, you will also see the orphan components that have become separated from their original adornments.  Enjoy a browse through my collection of the antiques from Yemen and Turkmenia and my collection of ancient artifacts from Bactria.  

Thank you for reading my blog.  I invite you to leave comments below and to follow this blog.  I do not inundate you with blog posts, usually managing to publish one or two a month.  

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Shaping and Decorating a Yemen Dowry Bracelet

The Dowry Bracelet

Antique Yemen Silver Bridal Dowry Bracelet Braid Design Filigree Inlay

The ancient practice of exchanging goods for a bride continued in Yemen and in many regions of Asia the practice persists.  It is considered only fair that the family who gives up part of its own treasure should be compensated.  It also teaches the groom to value his wife and daughters.  In Yemen the goods that the bride wore on the wedding day and any goods given to her by her own family and her friends and her husband's family are hers to keep.  She has control of her treasure throughout the marriage and would be allowed to take them with her in case she was divorced by her husband.  Since divorce is so very rare, the more important part of the deal is that she has her silver insurance policy in case her husband is disabled or pre-deceases her.   

  The dowry is designed and fabricated by one shop of jewelers, from apprentice to master.  The people who wanted contribute to the dowry brought their own silver Maria Theresa thalers -- then the standard cash currency -- and their pieces of silver jewelry to the maker of the dowry pieces.  The Jewish silversmiths melted down the silver, designed the various beads, pendants, rings, headbands, veil ornaments, bracelets, anklets, toe rings, upper arm bracelets and other trinkets to dangle from the clothing of the bride.  In the early 1900s the bride sat for the photograph at her wedding because she might be carrying a forty pound load of silver jewelry, each piece made with the skill of the Yemen Jewish silversmiths.  

Each part of this exemplary bracelet is made entirely by hand  with primitive hand forged iron tools, only about five of them.  Pliers, drawers of wire, hammer, tongs,  and a tool whose name  I don't know.  
The screw closure is an example of the perfect match-up required in this hinged bangle bracelet.  To match grooves that would last almost a hundred years and still operate for the wearer -- all by hand with handmade tools -- is quite an accomplishment.  

The hasp in the hinge at the back is now held together with a strong copper rod flattened at both ends.  This may be a replacement at some point in the bracelet's history; the silver hasp may have become so worn that the bracelet did not hang together well.  The copper rod appears never to have been coated with silver at any time.  I doubt that this magnificent bracelet would have had a solid copper rod as the hasp at the time it was created. 

The excellent  balance of braided wire, crenellation along the edges, and the small touch of inlaid filigree on the closure brings this dowry bracelet to perfection.  It is still very wearable and eminently collectible.  

For more information on the bracelet visit my WEBSITE

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Asian Ethnic Jewelry from the Arabian Desert

Arabian Bedouin Bracelets

The continent of Asia extends from the Mediterranean in the West to the Pacific in the West: think Hong Kong.  I include in my own delineation of Asian borders as being  from Siberia in the North to the tip of Saudi Arabia in the South, but some might include a greater part of Russia.

Perhaps the most intriguing jewelry being worn in Asia are the very eclectic 'jangling' jewelry of the various nomadic peoples of the deserts of Asia, in the Karakum and Kizilkum of Turkmenistan, the Gobi and Taklamakan in China, the Sindh in Pakistan and the Sahara  in Arabia.  I call it jangly or jangling jewelry because it is usually put together in a way that makes a musical sound as the wearer moves.  Hollow bracelets may be filled with tiny pellets or stone chips so that they whisper with the wearer's movement.  For example this pair of Bedouin bracelets from the Arabian desert of Yemen was created with such an enhancement.

Antique Pair Yemen Silver Bracelets Bedouin Style over Hollow Form

These bracelets are fabricated as hollow circles, having the jangly material added before soldering the two halves together.  The bracelet in the top position in this photo has been emptied of its contents by boring a tiny hole through it, so that act suggests that the jangly material is very small, such as large crystals of sand or the tiniest pebbles from the shores of the Arabian Sea perhaps.  The bracelet made in the same techniques as the one above still has its jangly contents and makes a pleasant sound as it moves around the wrist.  

There will be more in this series on Ethnic Jewelry from Desert and City, including jewelry from some of the various regions of Asia.   See much more on Yemen jewelry at my website Crafts of the Past.  

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Turkoman Gilded Silver - Yomud Tradition

In the preceding post, we compared the gilding methods and results of the Turkmen silversmiths and the Yemen silversmiths.   Readers have asked me to write a bit more about gilding, so I am happy to show some examples from another tribal tradition among the gilders of silver among the Turkoman tribes.

I rely on the researches of Dieter and Reinhold Schletzer in their book Old Silver Jewellery of the Turkoman.  I am not a silversmith, nor do I even know one.  But their book is rich in explanations of the physical methods of making the Turkoman jewelry and in interpreting the traditional symbols in the ornamentation.

Those of you familiar with embossing metal will recognize the repousse or chased technique used in the guljaka or collar button (large!) of the Yomud woman in this photo:

The collar button is made by laying out a thin sheet of silver, usually good silver because the Turkmen people were using silver ingots from Europe. That first thin sheet was left plain. Then another sheet of the same material was stretched across a template and pounced with soft hammers or chased with a stylus to create the embossed or repousse patterns. Then it was gilded with a process involving heated mercury and gold. The mercury would vaporize and the gold would combine with the silver sheet of repousse designs. 

The designs themselves are traditional and used over and over again in the Yomud ornamental style. They are dotted floral abstractions and strictly numbered sets of jewels and symbols. On this piece there are double sets of 12 floral patterns each. You can count them around the scalloped edge of the round guljaka. The outside set has two embossed flowers; the inside set of 12 has one larger embossed dotted flower between each glass jewel. 

Around the central green glass jewel, there are double sets of 12 ancestor symbols, the abstraction of a mountain sheep head, used everywhere in Turkoman jewelry, on their tent hangings, in their carpets, on their outdoor clay brick ovens, on the entry to their homes. The symbols are arranged facing each other with the inside circle of twelve ram heads being smaller than the outer ring of ram head ancestor symbols. 

The jewels are made of green, red and blue glass cabochons. The central jewel is molded glass in a kind of baroque faceted pyramid or mountain shape, also significant to the Turkmen people, as they memorialize their origin in the Altai Mountains in their ornamentation. 

The patterns that you see in the embossed face of the gilded guljaka would have been pounced into the gilded silver or chased into it with a stylus from a highly polished brass template such as the one in the photo below:

Compare the Yomud traditional ornamentation of their gilded jewelry with the Tekke tradition so well illustrated in the example below.  There you will see that the Tekke tribal silversmiths work with cut out patterns in the gilded layer that they then solder to the basic silver layer.  You can see the silver layer showing through the cut out designs.  

Below is another example of embossed gilded silver jewelry, this time in the Western Yomud tradition, a part of the same tribe that made the guljaka above but occupying a different location in Central Asia. I am including an explanation of the tribal symbols from the Schletzers' book cited above.  

This is one of the most beautiful amulets: it is a bearer of legends of the Turkmen. First the fact that in the Yomoud tribe this flat rectangle served the purpose that the cylindrical bozbend served in the Tekke tribe. This shape accommodated a booklet, whereas the bozbend carried a scroll which would not be so many layers of paper as a miniature booklet might have. Added to that, the rectangular or hexagonal tube that is the bozbend did not have the space for surface decoration that the embossed ram head anecestral symbol of the Yomud tribe required. Of course, the Tekke tribe remedied that situation by attaching their bozbend to a tumar - a flat equilateral triangle symbolizing the Altai mountain from which they originated. 

The five old turquoise gems have changed color as it does with time and exposure to the elements. This designer, gilder and silversmith in the Western Yomud tribe was not as rigidly traditional in his patterns as he might have been. Five turquoise gems is not divisible by four, as tradition would require. You will note that there are eight dotted floral figures and eight ram heads placed symmetrically around the gems. In that at least the designer was holding to tradition. But he parts with the rules again when he places two repousse flowers and two abstractions of flowers above the prayer box or açar - bag. 

A very similar prayer box of the Western Yomud tribe is shown on page 107, plate 39 in Dieter and Reinhold Schletzer's Old Silver Jewellery of the Turkoman. There the açar - bag has three glass gems on the gilded face of the box, while the fourth sits atop the box with four matching symbols of dotted floral abstractions. 

Visit Crafts of the Past to see more old Turkoman jewelry.