What Makes Jewelry Unique in the Arab World
By: Joyce Behrens/Arab America Contributing Writer
Jewelry has existed since the beginning of time. The discoveries of rare metals, such as gold, silver, and bronze, served as the foundation for luxury. As cultures and empires come and go, so do the stories of where the influences came from in the jewelry. Traditionally, in the Arab world, jewelry usage had some guidelines. Women are the main wearers of jewelry. For men, it is strictly prohibited. The only time men can obtain jewelry is when they offer it to their wives. As time changes, so do the influences behind these traditions. Today, Arab jewelry continues to make a statement in different trends, whether they are fashionable or cultural statements.
In the Arab world, jewelry is considered as a status of wealth. There are two main ideas behind the symbolic status of jewelry. First, Arab jewelry in early history highlighted economic social status. It’s considered as a symbol of beauty and power. People who came from higher echelons of society showed it through their gems. Mostly, this group came from families of royalty and power.
Another identification of wealth through jewelry came in use of the monetary exchange. Women in the Arab world traditional societies are considered as caretakers for their children. Their husbands are the earners of money. If their husbands died, then women can use their jewelry to provide for their children.
References to History
Each country in the Arab world has its own perspective on how to design jewelry. In Egyptian culture, inspiration came from the landscape. Scarabs and snakes are common symbols from the culture. However, the concept of displaying animal-inspired symbolism is forbidden in other Arab regions. Algeria takes inspiration from past civilizations that have ruled the region. Empires that had an impact on Algeria include the Byzantine and Roman era; their jewelry was used mostly as an elaborative appearance. You can see the history when it comes to headpieces, necklaces, and earrings.
Ideas for inspiration for the jewelry came from the diverse cultures as well as the surrounding areas in the Arab world. These can be symbols of religion, animals, or references to the scenery of the Arab world. For example, think about the evil eye and the hamsa symbol. These are featured on jewelry as a belief of protection. Since the hamsa is a symbol for stopping the harm and negativity from the evil eye, wearing the hamsa symbol on a necklace or bracelet indicates the mentality of not allowing negative or evil vibes in your daily life.
Modern Day Jewelry
When we look at jewelry today, it’s different from how extensive it used to look. Now, it is simplistic in structure. It’s not necessarily the big chunks of beading for bracelets and necklaces. Jewelry designers take in icons and bits of representation from the Arab world. The influences remained the same from ancient times. The only difference is the structure of jewelry; it’s more basic than during the time of civilization. The concept of attention to detail is still there from handcraft jewelry.
Here are two examples of some well-known Arab jewelry designers. Bil Arabi, created by Lebanese designer Nadine Kanso, is a luxury brand based in Dubai. Her signature design is using Arabic calligraphy and incorporating into jewelry. Calligraphy can be used as a focus point gem of a necklace or the structural component for ring designs.
Another example is Emirati designer, Alia bin Omair. Her collections are known as statement pieces with a touch of elegance. Her intentions are to create pieces that are out of the box. However, there is still a link to the Arab world. Whether it is the use of shapes and textures, her jewelry screams at you.
Check out our Blog here!