Jewellery has always meant something important to all of Mankind and tends to be enjoyed more than it is studied. It is a hybrid that is partly fashion and partly bullion and people from all parts of the world wore and still wear their wealth as opposed to banking it. Since the dawn of civilisation, jewels have compensated for three of man’s basic insecurities: vanity, superstition and the desire for material wealth. These three are as old as Mankind itself. Archaeologists use them to gauge the technical achievements of ancient civilisations; anthropologists to gain an insight into prehistoric customs and thinking; economists to assess the economic structure of a civilisation. The oldest form of jewellery are probably of the Palaeolithic, Neolithic periods and the later Stone Age when polished stone weapons and implements prevailed. Beads are some of the oldest form of adornment and were used as simple decorations, symbols of status and wealth and even as magic talismans.
Islam covers a wide geographical area with many different ethnic groups. The Middle East was constantly visited by people from other civilisations, establishing trading centres, exchanging laws, culture and technique. The unique quality of Islam was the blending of ethnic and universal elements. Silver was the most abundant along the main trade routes, and the centres of silver work remained relatively unchanged for many centuries. Silver is even mentioned in the Holy Qur’an. The ‘language of Islam’, reflected the spirit of Islam, creating wonderful Arabic script and geometric, floral and animal patterns. Today, much Islamic silverwork is still designed in the same way as the ancient craftsmen who had combined their independent heritages, skills and imaginations to produce a new art form that reflected the magnificence of the Islamic masters.
The Tareq Rajab Museum has a vast collection of jewellery set up by both Tareq and Jehan S. Rajab that covers not only the jewellery of the Arab world but all the Islamic world as well. The Museum is a major source of information on jewellery worn by all types of people, from the very poor to the most wealthy in society, and is more than just a simple attraction of precious metals and gemstones. The collection bears witness to the taste of cultures and the technical skill in using materials. The study of these pieces and their manufacture is a source of intellectual and aesthetic satisfaction. An interesting aspect Tareq and Jehan found during their travels was persuading even the poorest of women to part with their jewellery for money or even gold. The Museum’s collection is likely one of the only one’s of its kind in the sense that so much has been brought together and is on display in one single location.
The Museum’s jewellery collection is made up of thousands of individual pieces with a number of notable examples including a Turkoman ‘asyk’, from Afghanistan or Iran and a ‘hunkun’ or ‘hirz’ necklace with a gold decoration and attached Empress Maria Theresa thalers (coins) from the Sultanate of Oman. Another notable piece is the ‘hirz’ (amulet) of a very large silver and enamel-work hanging that belonged to the last Amir’s of Bohara (AD 1885-1920).
A few notable examples of the jewellery housed in the museum
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