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The Middle East is a mix of cultures and regions. It connects the Indian and Mediterranean Seas, Eurasia, and Africa, and is blessed with a fascinating history. The region involves various religious practices such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
As a result of this mix, the Middle East has a dynamic political and social life translating into diverse fashion trends and cultural production. Let’s take a look at the various types of jewelry produced in the Middle East, pieces that are a reflection of its dynamism and diversity and one that influences international designs.
History of Middle Eastern Jewelry
The history of jewelry in the Middle East is complicated because the region itself is complicated. Over thousands of years, the region changed and grew, seeing the rise and fall of great civilizations and the advent of various religions.
Early jewelry in the Middle Eastern region was mostly made from copper, with occasional additions of shell or bone, but as civilization advanced and trade expanded, more materials and methods entered the mainstream.
Around 5000 BCE, the process of metallurgy was discovered in Turkey. This is the process of melting down metals and molding them into new objects. Naturally, this opened the door for various types of jewelry and adornments to be crafted.
Similar to Italian and Greek jewelry, there were cuffs with intricately carved fish and birds, celestial bodies, necklaces with blooming flowers, and other items that are universal to human existence. However, while beadwork inspiration came from West Africa, goldsmithing is particular to Egypt.
The jewelers of the Middle East built on the knowledge they had accumulated and over the course of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, created signatory jewelry pieces that had religious emblems, such as the crescent moon and stars of Islam and the Coptic cross of Christianity.
The Middle East saw major civilizations that would influence the region’s jewelry-making, such as Persia, Mesopotamia, Sumeria, Assyria, and Babylon. In this way, jewelry that emerged from the region incorporates a variety of styles gleaned from different cultures.
Materials Used in Middle Eastern Jewelry
As with other regions, precious stones such as turquoise, diamonds, garnets, emeralds, sapphires, apatite, pearls, onyx, and lapis lazuli were used to create jewelry and these were considered a symbol of status and wealth in the society.
The crafting of jewelry in the Middle East was not limited to the use of gemstones. Fine jewelry with such delicacy and detail was crafted with precious metals.
The jewelry of the Middle East was often geometric in design, and they were usually large statement pieces.
Purposes of Middle Eastern Jewelry
While jewelry is typically worn to beautify and adorn a person, there were also practical reasons that made valuable jewelry even more desirable.
- In some regions, jewelry served as a way of saving wealth. For example, for the nomadic Bedouins in the Middle East, jewelry was an ideal way to move wealth around, as it was portable.
- Jewelry also served as a blanket of protection for women in the Middle East. This was because jewelry owned by a woman belonged to her, and this could be used for purposes she needed.
- Also, due to the fact that Middle Eastern jewelry usually bore distinctive designs, motifs, and inscriptions, it was easy to determine where the jewelry owner came from, and therefore, it acted as a sort of identification.
- Jewelry could also signify a person’s marital state. It was in ancient Egypt that the custom of wearing wedding rings to represent a couple’s union began when early Egyptians would wear reed rings. This custom then spread across the rest of the world.
- Jewelry was also often worn as amulets, to protect a person or bring them wealth and good luck. These included symbols such as the hamsa hand and the nazar boncugu, designs that are still worn today.
Middle Eastern Jewelry Materials
Gold is considered one of the most popular and oldest materials used in the making of Middle Eastern jewelry. Gold has been a material used in crafting jewelry in the Middle East for over 6000 years. Silver is also popular in the region as it allows for intricate and embellished pieces to be crafted at lower costs. Other metals such as platinum, brass, and copper are materials used for costume jewelry.
Gemstones are also commonly used, as mentioned above. For example, turquoise has been popular in Persia (modern day Iran) for centuries. There are regions in Iran known for having the best turquoise in the world.
Defining Characteristics of Middle Eastern Jewelry
The designs and patterns of Middle Eastern jewelry are distinct, although they vary from region to region. After all, the Middle East encompasses huge swathes of land and vast cultures – naturally, this is reflected in the patterns and designs of the jewelry.
The jewelry made in the Middle East also reflects various religions. Jewelry pieces can be seen to have designs, motifs, and inscriptions alluding to the religion of the region.
Middle Eastern jewelry can showcase Arabic calligraphy, for name necklaces or religious words. These are beautiful and graceful and often look stunning. It is one of the defining characteristics of Arabic jewelry.
Some symbols that have come from the Middle East are still worn around the world and are just as popular today as they were when they were first designed. These include the hamsa hand, the nazar boncugu, and the Egyptian ankh.
Middle Eastern Jewelry Types
Middle Eastern jewelry includes a range of jewelry types. Some of the most common are as follows:
- Bridal jewelry
- Head-dress and head jewelry
- Hand jewelry
Where Can I Buy Middle Eastern Jewelry
The world has gone beyond having to be in a place physically before you can make purchases.
There are a number of online stores with catalogs from different designers you can browse through to make your choice and have your jewelry shipped to wherever you are.
Middle Eastern jewelry has roots in several cultures and is made with a variety of materials. Rich with history, the motifs, symbols, and patterns that have emerged from this region are still coveted today and can be found around the world. They’re elegant, stylish, and meaningful – and are universally beloved.