Jewelery has always been an important feature of different cultures and civilizations. It has been used as a form of personal adornment, currency or even as a display of wealth. Whatever it’s purpose, jewelery is one of the oldest forms of body adornment; recently found beads made from Nassarius (sea snail) shells are estimated to be 100,000 years old and are thought to be the oldest example of jewelery. Historically, jewelery has also been worn as religious symbols in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
In recorded traditions of Islam the Prophet Mohammed permitted women to wear jewellery for personal adornment but prohibited gold jewelery for men. Furthermore, any kind of depiction of animate objects in art and jewelery was also prohibited.
Middle Eastern Jewelery in the pre-Islamic era was heavily influenced by the culture and rituals that were prevalent at the time. For example, jewelery design in Ancient Egypt was based on the superstitious belief that certain symbols could give the wearer a positive effect. Some common symbols in Ancient Egyptian jewellery included the beetle, serpent, falcon, and the eye. The beetle, also known as scarab, was a symbol for good luck. Another symbol, the ‘Ankh’ represented eternal life.
Pre-Islamic jewelery was known for its extravagance and intricacy. While Islam abolished the idolatry and superstitious belief systems of the Middle East that inspired such creativity, thankfully it did not eradicate the unique craftsmanship possessed by the jewelery makers; instead, it was re-channeled so that it did not transcend the new Islamic injunctions.
After the advent of Islam the Bedouins were heavily influenced by the arabesque form of decoration and became pioneers of Islamic Jewelery. It is an intertwined and over laced repetitive geometric design that can be seen in the architecture of numerous Islamic buildings across the Muslim World, including in the halls, rooms and courtyards of the Alhambra palace in Spain.
By the end of the 8th Century CE the Islamic Civilization had spread its domain far and wide and now included North Africa, Spain, India and Central Asia. The local jewelery techniques of the Syrians, Egyptians and Persians were assimilated into Arab jewelery-making, thus further evolving the style of Islamic Jewelery.
The earliest Islamic jewelery styles alongside arabesque were developed under the era of the Seljuk Turks. This involved the use of silver to recreate Allah’s name, verses of the Holy Qur’an or the Shahada (article of faith) on pendants and rings. In the modern era these styles have not lost their charms. A quick Internet search on Islamic Jewelery will bring up many contemporary products that continue the Seljuk method of crafting jewelery albeit with a touch of modern design.
Many of the Islamic jewelery products are today produced in Turkey. It is interesting to note that Turkish Silver, the metal most commonly used in Turkish Islamic jewelery, consists of 92.5% silver and 7.5% cadmium. This is unlike regular sterling silver which is 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. This difference in composition makes Turkish Silver lighter and more tarnish resistant.
Silver jewelery is also more recession proof than gold. Due to the rising price of gold and the general economic climate, many people today would settle for cheaper silver pendants and rings as opposed to gold. And with this growth in demand for cheaper, non-gold alternatives, innovative designers are making use of other precious metals such as tungsten silver to produce a new range of affordable Islamic jewelery. One such product that has recently hit the market in Europe is the tungsten Islamic ring which comes in several variations, for example the Arabesque ‘kufic’ style ring and the ‘ring that has the ‘Shahada’ inscribed on it.
The Islamic Jewelery products have managed to find a niche market amongst all types of individuals from the devout to the secular. Even some non-Muslims have shown a great deal of interest due to the fine work and stunning designs that are available. Also there is a growing appeal of Islamic products amongst the younger generation.
So what can we expect from the Islamic Jewelery market in the future? It seems this industry is willing to challenge the stereotypical impression of Islam. It yearns to provide a creative brand to convey the right Impression in the Islamic ‘halal’ product market for many as buyers or admirers.
So can we expect further innovative and enchanting new ranges of products in the Islamic Jewelery market? For that we will have to wait and see, but the answer has to be almost certainly ‘yes’.