Each region lends unique aspects of design and symbolism to its jewelry; for the wearers jewelry is not only a mark of identity, religion, security and pride but also major items of moveable wealth. Silver ornaments were mainly worn by both men and women of peasant and tribal origin. I remember vividly those remote areas where part of women’s dowry is paid in jewelry which can be sold in time of need. I also recall distressing stories about women suffering hardship, and worse, as a result of displaying their wealth.
Based on personal experience, I honestly can state that all ornaments are genuine antiques, the original patina of which has been carefully retained. Their authenticity is demonstrated by the familiar traditional formal elements and decorative techniques which have been applied. Where possible, I give the vernacular terms that relate to specific jewelry types or terms that represent concepts intrinsic to them. The ornaments on sale pre-date the early part of the twentieth century, unless otherwise indicated.
My fascination for ethnic jewelry was fired inter alia by “The Journal of Indian Art” (Delhi1883-onwards). I was particularly interested in the significance of paired anklets & bracelets as opposed to single ones. In ancient times anklets and bracelets were habitually worn in pairs, but once sold, are seldom found in complete pairs. In general rural women arrange their jewelry symmetrically on each side of the body. In many cases, communities decree a specific sequence for these ornaments.
Trade in ethnic jewelry covers wide distances, shown in a nutshell by the following examples. Over the centuries Peshawar was a market from which Central Asian ideas penetrated to India. On the African continent we find ethnic jewelry made by craftsmen of the Libyan city of Benghazi. And tribal folk on migration, such as the Rashaida in the Middle East and Banjara in India, would often take along their jewelry.
In general, ethnic ornaments were made from sheet silver decorated with engraving, repoussé, applied filigree wire, granulation and niello. However, regardless of the silver content, some ornaments are themselves of great antiquity. Being made of base metal, it was generally not worthwhile to break them up, on those occasions when a financial crisis made the sale of womens’ jewelry unavoidable.
Most ornaments are not stamped since in earlier times the craftmanship applied was widely recognizable. However, some ornaments have the artist’s sign. In the case of India, a national hallmarking system was launched as late as 2005. Seeking to avoid fraudulent dealings, Egypt passed a law introducing an official hallmarking system in 1916; 45 cd silver was no longer permitted.
The heritage of ethnic jewelry is quickly disappearing, as silversmiths die out. Their work is nowadays replaced by machine-made silver and gold jewelry. Regrettably old silver is still being melted down and sold as silver ingot. Last year I visited some places where I bought ornaments in the far past. Sadly, very little ethnic jewelry was to be found, as hardly any traders had passed that way.
I hope this gives a fair amount of information, which can be easily supplemented by reference to the sources mentioned below.
Please note that the ornaments exhibited are not polished to ensure preservation of the precious patina.
We stock more ornaments which will be added to this website in due course. Thus, please check the catalogue on a regular basis. Should you require a rare/specific ornament please let us know.