person who has once seen the Bedouin jewellery of this region cannot
help but become interested in its origin and history. One such person,
who lived in Oman for five years, is Oytun Camcigil. Although she
is an architect, trained in her homeland of Turkey, she has not practiced
this profession while her husband was stationed in various countries
in the Middle East. Instead she studied and collected the Omani silver
jewellery and then branched out into making fine pieces of jewellery
herself from both modern and ancient beads and silver pieces. Recently
she showed me her collection and I learned about their origin.
preferred silver to gold for their jewellery, because silver was
thought to have protective powers. The head of a Bedouin Family
put his wealth in silver on the wrists, ankles and neck of his wife.
She felt appreciated by the jewellery bestowed on her, while he
had his wealth under his eye and hand if he needed it.
Omani jewellery is generally made from the finest silver by the
best silversmiths. Where in other Bedouin jewellery the small cases
that usually hold some Quranic verses are closed boxes, these hirz
from Oman can open on hinges and are decorated with chasing and
engravings, rather than with filigree and granulation. One technique
that was refined in central Oman consisted of covering a piece of
silver with a thin sheet of gold and then engraving it, so that
the silver showed through the gold. In another technique the background
silver was blackened with soot and oil or sulphur in order to show
off the designs.
region of Oman has had contacts with the far corners of the world
since centuries due to the sea-trade that was conducted between
Oman and many other places such as Zanzibar, Yemen, Persia, Iraq,
Greece, Morocco, Egypt, and India.
Some designs used in the jewellery of Rustaq, Sur and Muscat show
an influence from these countries. The hoop earrings with large
cylindrical beads originate from ancient Assyria, while the spiked
bracelets and anklets that are made in Muttrah and Muscat hail from
Africa. Hollow hoop bracelets show Persian influence. Designs in
the Dhofar have much in common with Yemeni designs.
In modern days, when the contact with faraway cultures has become
so much easier, places as far away as Indonesia, China and East
Africa influence designs.
contrary, the interior of Oman was extremely isolated from the rest
of the world for very long. It is therefore not surprising that
the designs used on pieces of jewellery from Nizwa and Bahla are
more primitive and unique than those on silver items from the coastal
regions. What is surprising, however, is that these unique Omani
designs are found also in Cyprus and early Roman Etruscia. They
were brought there by the soldiers of the armies of Alexander the
Great and his general Nearchos, who visited the region during their
conquest of the Middle and Far East.
of the designs that are used are known throughout the Arab world
and are meaningful to the owners.
A circular design indicates unity and eternity and is often used
in jewellery from Sur, while a spiral denotes progress. A triangle
signifies the spirit. The ubiquitous fish design is a symbol of
fertility and reproduction, while various hand-shapes promise protection.
The hand of Fatima, the daughter of the prophet Mohammed, (the hijab)
occurs very often, sometimes with the extra decoration of a snake
or an eye. Sometimes these hands have five fingers signifying the
five pillars of Islam. Others are more stylised and have either
2 or 8 fingers, or have been reduced to small ovals or even diamond
in the interior of Oman has long been famous for the work of its
silver smiths. Both jewellery and the silver decorations for the
scabbard of the famous curved khanjar dagger were made here. The
latter is mostly decorated with geometrical and floral patterns,
and ideally has 7 rings, of which 2 are meant as belt holders. The
belt itself is also an intricate piece of work, made with silver
thread. Nizwa is famous for its geometrical designs and for the
heavy anklets (hajil) that are made here and in Rustaq.
Items from these areas rarely use set stones as decoration. This
is done more often in places along the Batinah coast, and in Muscat
and Muttrah. As stones both real and fake coral are used, also cornelian,
turquoise and lapis lazuli as well as glass, and sometimes plastic
or even bicycle light reflectors! Some jewellery uses seedpods,
pieces of wood and bones, and other natural products as decorations.
These pieces are generally considered to be more primitive.
towns also produced distinctive articles. Each had their different
designs and patterns.
Rustaq is well known for its floral designs, while Muscat uses projecting
knobs on its jewellery. In Sur a crescent shaped neckband is made,
that bears close resemblance to necklaces worn by women of the hill
tribes in Thailand and Hainan. The Arabs used to trade intensively
with Hainan in the past, and one can only speculate which culture
influenced the other. The crescent moon design is thought to have
originated in the times when the Ottomans ruled the Middle East
The Dhofar produced the "manjar", two sets of silver chains
worn crosswise over both shoulders and hanging down to the hips.
This design was similar to decorative chains worn by tribal women
in Jordan. Its origin is likely to be very ancient, as similar designs
were encountered in Byzantine and Greek archeology. Married women
in the Dhofar wear caps (harm) decorated with coins and 10 cylindrical
beads stitched on them. Unmarried girls can only have 6 of these
beads. Dhofari anklets are wide bands of chain work decorated with
Some of the jewellery combined both aesthetic beauty and practical
use. Quite common were small containers for "kohl" the
black pigment that was applied around the eyes to treat or prevent
infections and to deflect the glare of the sun. These were often
linked to small tweezers, which could be used to extract thorns
from the skin.
In the Wahiba Sands tribal women had some very original pieces of
jewellery. One was a necklace with a large silver disc, engraved
on one side with a Quranic verse, and on the other side with a stylized
figure of a djinn to ward of the evil eye. Another interesting piece
was a finely woven leather helmet, shaped to the head of individual
women, and adorned with silver coins. Also from the Wahiba sands
hails the 'sumpf' or 'altah', a necklace of eight Maria Theresa
thalers, separated by silver beads. The thalers were blackened with
Ornaments with bells usually originate from the south (Najran) as
do meshed collars (kirdan), which were inspired by the chain mail
worn by the Crusaders.
few of the pieces that could be found in the suqs and antique shops
of Oman are the genuine article. Much of the real antiques have
already been scooped up by collectors. One such collection is held
by the Tarek Rajab Museum in Kuwait.
But even the newly-made Omani silver pieces are wonderful. The Maria
Theresa thalers that so often are used as decoration are freshly
minted, with old dates, in the silver smithies in the interior of
Oman. The silver used nowadays comes mainly from China.
old or new, Omani silver jewellery is to be admired for the intricacy
of the silver work and the originality of the designs.