Jeweler's magic - like art

By Mr Rustam Mirzaev 


        Jeweler's art is one of the most ancient on the earth. Initially jewelry was used not merely as adornment; it also served a magical purpose as was believed to have magic properties able to protect the wearer from evil spirits. The earliest adornments found in Uzbekistan date back to the 12th century B. C. In a burial ground located in the upper reaches of the Chirchik river there were excavated bronze bracelets with triangular inlaid patterns and ornaments in the form of cosmological spirals. Of great historical and cultural value are gold and silver religious objects, bracelets, finger-rings and necklaces from so-called Amu Darya treasure discovered in 1877 upstream the Amu Darya river. They vividly evidence the fact that as early as the 5th century B. C. the skill of Bactrian handicraftsmen achieved the perfection of a true art.




The archeological finds at the site of Dalverzintepe ancient settlement in the Surkhan-Darya area (Southern Uzbekistan) caused a real sensation: there was excavated a 32-kg treasure which consisted of highly artistic articles and gold, silver and gemstones jewellery dating back to the epoch of the Kushan Empire. Near the city of Termez on the site of Balalyk-tepe ancient settlement there were found the ruins of a palace decorated with 6th century wall-paintings featuring a scene of the feast. Noble women on these wall-paintings were pictured wearing gold rings and ear-rings with pendants reminding traditional personal adornments of modern Uzbek women.

        In the Temurid period on the orders of court ladies local jewelers created sumptuous gold and silver ornamented objects.

        The jeweler's art reached its golden age in the 19th early 20th centuries. The adornments made by the jewelers of Bukhara, Khiva, Samarkand, Tashkent and Fergana valley were in great demand in the East and the West. The products of Bukhara and Tashkent masters were particularly appreciated. The jewellery of the Uzbek masters is distinguished for richness of forms, gracefulness of decoration and elaboration of details. In Uzbekistan silver was always the favorite material for making jewellery, but the Bukhara masters traditionally preferred gold. And that is not without reason: after all, Bukhara is located in the valley of the gold-bearing river Zarafshan where the precious metal has been mined since ancient times.

        Creation of jewellery wonders takes place in a jeweler's workshop equipped with rather simple facilities. Here one can find a small homemade clay furnace in the form of a low prism with a cavity on its surface where charcoal is placed. Fire in the furnace is blown by means of manual bellows dam made of sheepskin. The form of dam resembles two truncated cones connected in bases. For delicate work jewelers  zargars use a copper cone tube dakhandam. They blow this tube directing a puff at a work piece. Silver and gold are smelted in crucible furnaces buticha made of clay.

        Masters use simple tools tweezers of different calibers with grinded ends to manufacture chains, ear-rings and cells for stones; pincers to pick up fine details; scissors kaychi; a set of nippers; little hammers, dies and moulds to make various jewellery components such as beads and halves of beads; a small iron anvil.
 

        Each jeweler, as a rule, shows skills both in molding and forging; therefore he is also called temir-usto  metal working master. Jewelers make the best use of stamping, niello, openwork and laid-on filigree, and enameling techniques. The favorite technique has always been filigree patterns composed of soldered silver beads. Masters also use engraving, metal carving, and incrustation. Sometimes precious and semiprecious stones are replaced with imitations made of glass, enamel and paste.

        In the old days the jewelers who worked mainly with silver were called kumush-usto silversmiths. Silver was not only used to make woman's personal adornments. It was widely used for decoration of horse harnesses, stirrups, ceremonial saddles, lashes kamcha, weapon hilts and sheathes. Saddle-clothes were trimmed with silver plaques. Silver was used for making buttons for garments and belts. For instance, a traditional ceremonial man's suit had to be completed with a belt to match, and Bukhara masters decorated these belts with large ornamented buckles embellished with gemstones and niello. Sometimes round or figured lockets were attached along the full length of the belt. The most expensive man's belts were composed entirely of flexibly jointed bent filigree plates decorated with an openwork ornament.

        According to a popular belief, silver deprives poisons of their force, keeps off evil spirits and preserves purity. Silversmiths distinguished two variations of silver soft and hard. Slightly heated soft silver is forged into a foil, which is used to make overlays hammered into damascened steel or iron. Hard silver is smelted in a crucible furnace and cast in a metal mould rezha in the form of a thin plate. Hammering the plate into a thin sheet and then drawing it through orifices of different calibers in a special metal plate kirya, jewelers get silver wire for producing ear-rings and rings. To form the wire into a ring-shape the master wraps it round a special conic-shaped bender ombur. The finest wire is used to weave chains and make up filigree patterns.

        To make hemispherical and dome-shaped small parts widespread in traditional jewellery, masters use forged bronze hemispheres kuba of different diameters. To engrave an ornament on an object the jeweler zargar finds in a special kit of little chisels kalams the one of the proper size and with the appropriate relief pattern on the end. By hammering the chisel against the metal surface of the object the master prints a pattern on it. Low relief ornaments on pendants are produced with copper dies kolibs. Each jeweler working with precious metals has scales. In the old days the measure of weight was a zolotnik (1/96 pounds) miskol. Not to lose a grain of silver or gold the master, while finishing the product, places it on a wooden bar fixed above an iron tray.
 

        In combination with silver the Uzbek jewelers use precious and semiprecious stones: emerald, sapphire, garnet, cornelian, turquoise, pearls, nacre and coral. By tradition, the stones for jewellery are not faceted, but ground. In old times people used to impart a certain magic power to each gemstone. Cornelian khakik was especially appreciated. It was believed to bring happiness and health, to save from danger and to prevent a deceit. Probably that is the reason why most ancient bracelets and rings are decorated with cornelian inlays. Turquoise firuza improves eyesight, encourages and brings a victory in a battle. It is not casual that in the East the hilts and sheathes of daggers and sabers were decorated with turquoise inlays. The pearls are believed to possess healing power.

        Silver or gold ware has always been an indispensable attribute of the Uzbek woman's costume. But for the wedding ceremony there are prepared complete sets of jewellery. The bride keeps on wearing some of them even after the wedding, up to the birth of her first child.

        The traditional bride's costume includes a lot of jewellery as well as various silver, gilt or gold frontlets or diadems. Brides from Tashkent, Fergana and Bukhara used to put on rather high gilt ajour kokoshniks tilla-kosh with inlays of turquoise and multi-colored artificial diamonds. The bottom-line of these kokoshniks was trimmed with plenty of figured pendants. At the beginning of the 20th century the Bukhara masters made diadems imitating the form of eyebrows; they were called usma-tilla penciled golden eyebrows. Of particular beauty are ancient frontlets bagrak in the form of a strip composed of jointed square silver plates. Each plate is decorated with gilding, stamping and incrustation with semiprecious stones surrounded by fine turquoise. The ancient Bukhara head adornment shashpo consisted of six long strings of silver and gilt beads, corals, pearls and silk tassels with metal caps on the ends sprung between them. This adornment was reeled on a headdress with the ends of strings freely hanging down on cheeks.

        The Khoresm bride wore a head adornment osmonduzy with semi-precious stones and metal pendants. It is necessary to note, that the Khoresm woman's adornments are remarkable for the archaism of forms and originality of ornamental patterns. The traditional headdress takyaduzy made of fine metal figured plates and pendants greatly resembles the form of a military helmet. It tightly fits the head and has a slightly pointed top. The ancient Khoresm epos "Kyrk kyz" involuntarily comes back to your memory. This epos tells about forty warrior-girls, who successfully protected their homeland from conquerors. In the course of time the articles of warlike armour customary for women of nomad tribes, such as helmet, shield, bow and arrows, and a hauberk, lost their primary meaning and became stylized symbols in peculiar jewellery. For instance, the Khoresm women fasten to their caps takya a nape adornment uk-yey resembling a bow with a tense string, and numerous pendants arrows. Abundance of pendants in the form of leaves, flower buds and corns decorating headdresses and necklaces and tunefully jingling are believed to keep off evil spirits.
 

        In the old days the bride's attire included temple pendants of rectangular or almond-shaped forms, all possible kinds of pins to fasten headscarves and head adornments.

        Plait adornments and pendants, the so-called chochpopuk, made of black silk with silver or gilt jewels and openwork pendants on the ends have always been an integral part of a woman's dressing-up.

        The favorite breast adornments of Uzbek women are necklaces made of bunches of coral beads marjon. As a rule, big and fine corals are threaded on several strings, which alternate with chains. The corals on the strings, in their turn, alternate with small balls and beads and are collected in separate fragments. These fragments are divided by rectangular or figured plates decorated with enamel or gemstones. Necklaces of beads or corals threaded alternately with coins or metal flat circles are very popular. Quite often a large elegant locket with patterns and gemstones - zebirgardon is inserted into a necklace.

        Breast adornments often consist of silver plates of complicated forms which are decorated with gemstones, filigree, niello or enamel. These plates are joined by five or six strings of silver chains, the central plate being different from the others in form, size and thorough decoration. This plate, as well as the whole adornment, is called khaykal, which means "figure". In this name there is an echo of the ancient custom to wear on breast the image of a totem animal the protector of a clan.

        Tumors, jewel cases for amulets, differ from the other Uzbek ancient jewelleries in their particular forms. They are made in the form of upwardly directed triangles, rectangles, polygons and cylindrical tubules. Besides being richly ornamented with filigree, filigree beads or enamel, tumors often bear inscription with a prayer. Tumors were fixed on openwork necklaces or chains and were worn on breast. Sometimes one adornment included two or three tumors of different configuration. In the old days the Uzbek women hid into tumor a protection prayer, an amulet or a magic spell; and some of them even used it to hide a message from a beloved. Khoresm jewelers decorate tumors with exceptional splendour and elegance surrounding the amulet case with plenty of figured gilt pendants with coral beads.

        In Khorezm relatives give a heart-shaped pendant asyk to a woman expecting a child. This tradition is connected with the ancient cult of Mother-goddess. The pendant is inlaid with cornelian and decorated with a cross sign chakhar chyrag a nomadic symbol of life.
 

        The traditional ear-rings of the Uzbek women are exceptionally exquisite in form and trimmings. The jewellery set includes ear-rings zirak, which have a thin ring-shaped bow with a cross-piece threaded with multi-colored beads, and ear-rings with marquee- or dome-shaped pendants, which were true masterpieces of jeweler's art. Gold and silver ear-rings kashkar boldak were widespread in Fergana valley, whereas Bukhara masters are famous for producing gold ear-rings shybirmak in the form of a petal with big rubies in the centre and pearls surrounding them. In the old days women of fashion wore two pairs of ear-rings simultaneously. In some areas of Uzbekistan women wore special nose-rings buloky or a rosette on a stem, which was thrust into a puncture in a nostril.

        It is notable that in jeweler's art there are masters specializing in producing woman's ear-rings ziraksoz and rings uzuksoz. Women wear rings uzuk on all fingers but the third one. The rings are inlaid with gemstones most appreciated in the East: pearls, rubies, turquoise, and cornelian. As for the composition of design the preferred form is a big stone surrounded with several smaller ones. Rings with metal or stone signets in a smooth or slightly ornamented mount are also popular.

        The Bukhara openwork bracelets shabaka are thin and gauzy with a graceful stamped pattern or niello decoration. The Khorezm bracelets are on the contrary rather massive and ornamented with cornelian. Such bracelets are worn in pairs. Bracelets can be locked with a fastener or open-ended. Rings and bracelets of diverse ornamental decoration and techniques of performing are an indispensable part of any, even the most modest set of woman's jewellery.

        The mastery of jeweler's art is passed on from generation to generation, from fathers to their sons. Thanks to creative energy and skill of Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara, Urgench, Fergana masters the ancient traditions of this remarkable artistic craft have been preserved up to the present time. Just as zargars of the past were incorporated in guilds, today the majority of masters join the Uzbek Union of craftsmen "Khunarmand". Many of them cooperate with Associations of folk masters "Usto", "Mussavir", "Meros" and others. Jewellery made of silver and decorated with corals and semiprecious stones as a result of creative imagination of such well-known jewelers as F. Dadakhodzhaev, G. Tikayev and S. Nizamov are highly competitive with the best samples of the Uzbek traditional jeweler's art in beauty and accuracy of trimmings. These artistic works of modern masters attract attention of numerous visitors in art showrooms. The artists of Tashkent and Zarafshan jewellery factories also get interested in revival of ancient kinds of woman's jewelry. In jeweler's shops of the Republic there appeared gold rings, ear-rings and necklaces designed on the basis of ancient forms, thus maintaining the traditions of this remarkable art skill.

        Association of Jewellers represents modern jewellery art of Uzbekistan at the annual exhibition "Jewellery". Various jewellery plants, private workshops and masters participate in this exhibition. Generally recognised are the works of such masters as S. Mukhamadov, who skillfully combines the old traditions of Bukhara jewellery school with modern tendencies, A. Abdujabbarov - "father" of modern Marghilan jewellery school whose ornamented objects follow traditional forms, design and gemstones selection the artistic image developed within many centuries.