Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Ornamental Dagger of Yemen

Antique Yemen Inscribed Ornate Silver Dagger in Sheath Still Usable

This dagger or jambiya is one of the old daggers forged and decorated by the superb Yemenite Jewish silversmiths that emigrated to Israel in the early 1900s and took their artistic knowledge and ability with them. 

The sheath is decorated profusely with granulation and inlay, and is partially wrapped in a soft black leather. The dagger is still sharp and is in usable condition. The loops attached to leather wrapping serve to attach the dagger to the clothing of the wearer of the dagger. 

Such daggers are worn by Moslem men. This particular one is inscribed with the name 'Daoud' or David written in Arabic. He was probably the owner and wearer of this fine piece. The antique daggers are worn as a status symbol because of the financial value. Yemen still has metalsmiths that create imitations of these magnificent pieces, but the material and the silversmith's techniques are inferior. Many of recent manufacture are made as simply decorative items and are not meant to be used. 

The old jambiyas are to be worn on an elaborately woven belt woven originally by men but the art is now being taught to younger women. As explained by Marta Colburn, a frequent traveler to Yemen:

Men in Yemen do not commonly wear jewelry, except for silver rings. The one exception is the decorative dagger called a jambia, which is a common item of dress for most highland Yemeni men. The jambia has great symbolic value establishing one's place in social hierarchies and tribal membership, though it is rarely used as a weapon. The j-shaped version of this dagger, asib, is worn by tribesmen, while judges, legal scholars and religious elites wear a more gently-curved version called a thuma or tuza .... This version worn by elites often displays very intricate and exquisite silver craftsmanship on the sheath.

The belt is an important decorative and functional element of the jambia. Leather is covered with velvet and other fabric embellished with geometric or religious designs in metallic gold or silver thread. The designs may be embroidered or, as in the case of my belt, tablet-woven brocade. Traditionally various silver crafted items would be sewn to the belt for decorative and functional purposes (powder horn, money pouch and amulets). -- Marta Colburn

This dagger was collected from an antiques dealer in Yemen. 

Your inquiry is invited. 

Sheathed Dagger - 2.5 in x 14 in (6.3 cm x 35.5 cm)

For purchasing information see CraftsofthePast .

Monday, March 18, 2013

Jingle Bells on Yemenite Women's Belts

Antique Yemen Large Silver Belt with Dozens of Large Bell Dangles

This antique belt from Yemen is made for a woman to add to her dowry, not typically shown as part of her wedding garment. However, the older Yemenite Jewish immigrant to Israel is shown in the illustration above wearing some of the customary wedding finery along with the married woman's fancy silver belt with carnelian jewels embedded in the buckle.

The belt from my collection that I am listing for sale has around a hundred tinkling bell dangles similar to those sported in the above illustration of the Yemenite woman's costume. The belt that is offered here for sale has much the same intricate design of links as you can see that each identical column of silver diamond shapes is linked securely to the next for the whole length of the belt, which is 29.5 in or 75 cm of links, not including the elaborate buckle parts. The links are still in perfect working order, as are the buckle and fastener. The bells show the wear and tear of the last 75 years, but there is no lack of bells, which are distributed generously along the length of the belt.

Now comes the mystery of the buckle on this traditional belt created for the Yemenite Jewish woman by a Yemenite Jewish silversmith, probably in the shops at Sana'a, the capital, where the Jewish housewives had a lively social community and wore costuming suitable to their status. 

For some reason this exquisitely designed and fabricated belt buckle with the same pattern that we see in many of the incredibly beautiful inlaid filigree and rosette designs of the Bawsani bracelets has acquired what I call a 'cultural accretion.' On top of one side of the beautiful Bawsani filigree and rosette buckle, we see a specially designed a cut out of glass pieces set in a plain plaque soldered over the original design. 

Why it should happen is a mystery, but there it is. I suppose that is what makes this belt truly ethnic jewelry; the variety of aesthetic standards is shown, because cultural objects are handmade to fit the taste of the owner, not uniformly manufactured for the masses to buy or not to buy. The belt remains very appealing in spite of the 'upscaling' that we can see. The modification is quite old and probably was worn for at least a generation or two before coming into my collection. 

This is one of the most mysterious pieces in my collection, because the final form cannot be explained by 'tradition.' Some writers attribute the addition of gemstones of any kind to their supposed healing or protective properties. This could explain the cultural addition to the original inlaid filigree buckle. The mysterious addition only adds to its authenticity.

Purchase Here.  

Belt length from left hand end to screw fastener on right hand end - 32.5 in (82.5 cm)
Belt band width at buckle fastener, not including bell dangles - 2 in (5 cm)
Belt width including dangles - 3.75 in (9.5 cm)
Belt buckle length when closed - 3 in (7.5 cm)

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Bridal Dowry Bracelet of the Yemenite Jews

Antique Yemen Silver Bracelet Bawsani Filigree Domes Rosette Clasp

More information on availability at DESIGNER'S WEBSITE

This is a beautifully designed antique Yemen silver bracelet with twelve small domes worked in Bawsani style filigree that decorates the middle band around the bracelet. The bands at the top and bottom of the bracelet are inlaid with beaded wire; all the decoration on the age-darkened silver of the base band glows with the nobility of old silver. 

The fastener is the traditional screw fastener of the Middle East. On the opposite side of the bracelet from the fastener is the matching hinge. One of the above photos shows the hinge side of the bracelet. The bracelet is in its original condition except for the aging and the smoothing of its features from being worn against skin or clothing. 
Even the rosette fastener cover is in its original condition with no chips or missing pieces. Such bracelets are becoming ever more rare. 

This beautiful piece of silver was created for a fortunate Yemeni woman before the 1940s when the Jewish silversmiths emigrated to Israel. Odds are that it was not made much before 1930, because traditionally, the older generation's jewelry was melted down to create the bridal dowry for the next generation. In the late 1940s, tradition was broken because the makers of such jewelry were gone. The jewelry became more and more valuable because there was no longer a way to have new pieces made. 

There is a very similar bracelet shown on page 139 of A World of Bracelets by Anne van Cutsem. It is attributed to the goldsmiths of Sana'a, Yemen, which was the location of the Bawsani community of gold and silver craftsmen. 

If you are interested in purchasing this item on our Lay-Away plan (see my policies page), just contact me by clicking on the Contact Seller button on this page. 

Inside diameter - 1.99 inches (5.1 cm) Width of band - 1 inch (2.5 cm)
The bracelet will fit around a 6.25 inch (15.1 cm) wrist