Uzbekistan Handicrafts: Jewelry
Over centuries Uzbek craftsmen have passed from generation to generation the art of creating wonderful jewelries made of precious metals and gems. Jewelry is one of the ancient crafts in the world which always excited and amazed. The earliest jewelry found on the territory of Uzbekistan dates back to the 17th century BC, when there were no Bukhara nor Samarkand or Tashkent.
The most ancient Uzbekistan jewelries were found near the source of the Chirchik river. In the burial ground there were bronze bracelets with images of cosmological spiral. Another interesting find was the Amu Darya treasure which was found near the source of Amu Darya river and consisted of unique articles of Bactrian jewelers dating from the fifth century BC. Actually the real sensation was the treasure found in Dalverzintepa of Surkhandarya region: the treasure consisted of a great number of gold and silver jewelries inlaid with gems. The total weight of the treasure was 32 kilos.
Previously jewelry was not only an ornament but also a magic talisman protecting its owner from diseases, poisons, evil curses and bringing luck, wealth and happiness. Thereby the silver was the symbol of purity and amulet from poison and evil spirits. The cornelian, in Uzbek “khakik”, was the talisman of health and happiness. The turquoise brought luck in a battle and improved sight. The pearl healed. Many other gems and precious metals also had magic properties.
Uzbek jewelers always worked individually or within the family passing the secret of craft from father to son. Usually there was a small workshop with clay furnace to smelt metal, small anvil and small set of tools to make jewelries. Craftsmen had a number of skills: smelting, casting, forging, engraving, embossing, creating niello, openwork and enamel. Although there were craftsmen of particular specialty. For example those who worked with silver were called as kumush-usto (silver master).
From time immemorial silver was the most popular metal among Uzbek jewelers. It was used not only for women’s jewelry but also for ornaments of arm, clothes and houseware. In addition, various gems were used with silver. Unlike western jewelers, Uzbek masters did not cut but polished gems, giving them round shape.
Gold was used much rarer. Only Bukhara masters used to make gold jewelry, because close to Bukhara there was the gold mining in the Zarafshan valley.
The golden age of jewelry art in Uzbekistan was in the 19-20th centuries. Jewelers, “zargar” in Uzbek, decorated almost everything: filigree decoration of arm, wonderful patterns of bridle and other horse equipment, engraving silverware and many others, including traditional jewelry. At the same time, traditions and art of other nations were introduced to the Uzbekistan culture. Jewelers from India, Persia, Caucasus and other countries came to Uzbekistan. The negative effect had the import from Russia of finished stamped gold jewelries which were much cheaper than local gold articles. Step-by-step Uzbek jewelers could not withstand the competition.
Today Uzbek traditions of jewelry are revived due to families of masters who in spite of low demand in the 20th century continued their work. Jewelry shops again display gold and silver articles, made in Uzbek classic style. Craftsmen unite with each other, creating craft centers and their works are exhibited on specialized jewelry exhibitions more frequent. Year by year the interest to the unique style of Uzbek jewelers increases even abroad. Uzbekistan jewelry art is the rich unique culture, which is reviving, keeping up knowledge and secrets of craft stored for centuries.