Research – Hive mind

by Sarah Corbett and Alaa Eddine Sagid

From time to time a collective approach to study brings new insight into a piece of jewellery.

Jewellery Forum has several of these types of shared research discussions.

Here is the outcome of one such collective research situation.

During his travels in Morocco in the 1930’s Jean-Girard Besancenot a French photographer and artist recorded extensively the jewellery and clothing he witnessed in each of the regions he visited. His work has become an invaluable resource for those who are interested in the study of the adornments of the country.

One of the pieces recorded was a wide silver bracelet with pin closure, but no opposing hinge the piece was decorated with granulation and enamelling. Other examples of this bracelet have a section of one third of its circumference which opens.

The bracelet was recorded as a piece from Ait Ouarzguit. This is a tribal group from a region in the South of Morocco which is famed for the opulence of their adornment. This opulence was due to the wealth accumulated by the saffron growing families in this area. The ladies often employed live in silversmiths to create wondrous jewels with rich enamelling and fine filigree. Often these ornaments of status and wealth were even enamelled on both sides.

This granulated bracelet however threw up some questions, and the in depth analysis began!

Some observations made were based on the lack of an opposing hinge in the drawing by Besancenot. This is a wholly Algerian trait, and something we would not expect to see on a piece from Morocco.

Indeed examples from Algeria were shown of the bracelet type identical in method of manufacture to the piece we see attributed by Besacenot to Ait Ouarzguit. The only difference

seen is the lack of the enamelling, and clearly there is a connection between the two pieces in a stylistic sense.

This difference led those involved in the discussion to focus on the enamelling itself. The enamelling centres famed in Morocco are mainly in the South ( for example: Tiznit, Tafroute and Tarroudant) . These pieces if made in the North were enamelled elsewhere.

The enamelling of Algeria, and in particular of the Kabylie jewellers who were experts in the art is famed for its superior quality. It is fine, shimmering and glassy, in opulent jewelled shades. the enamelling in this example is muddy and thick by comparison, and does not have the same effect at all as the Algerian enamelled pieces. There were exceptionally fine Niello and enamelled pieces from Tclemen in the North, but this again did not resemble in anyway the type seen in this mysterious cuff. Fine blue or green enamel was found in Fes and Meknes. The

evidence we saw did not easily fit into any of the possible sources of such a piece.

The clue to understand the quality and the colouring of the enamel comes from Batterposses factory in France where a bead made from glass and porcelain was produced. This was a new and fashionable trade item in Africa in the 1930’s.  it would be desirable and considered to be very chic. It would also behave completely differently to the earlier glass beads if ground to make enamel. The colour pallette of the enamel and the cabochons is present on the sample cards from the Batterposses factory.

Upon close inspection it became clear that the enamelling was not applied in the usual manner.  The areas to be enamelled were not contained by a wire border. And indeed in some instances there were pieces of silver worked design hidden beneath a thick enamel layer. initial concepts were discussed attributing this strange thick application of the enamel to a novice jeweller, or a first attempt, but as the investigations gathered momentum a few more of these bracelets came to light. The theory was offered that these were early bracelets which had been later adorned further with this thick Enamelling

Historical research into dating the silver cuffs of Algeria, anecdotal evidence from a Moroccan

dealer appraising a Coran box with this same type of enamel as a piece from Figuig , a reference

from a book on Moroccan jewellery and a website with images of items from Figuig brought a

new clue to the table.  There was a style of Bracelet called ‘Ettah’ for brides which matched the mystery piece.

These all originate in Figuig, a town which is now on the borders of Algeria and Morocco.. Political history tells us that before these borders were placed by the French this region encompassing a part of Morocco and a part of Algeria was a region known as Tuat. The basis of this bracelet pre dates the division, and as such is from both and neither country, but certainly not from Ait Ouarzguit.

so to conclude our journey with this beautiful jewel, a flight of ( maybe) fancy! but a fairly well qualified one!

‘In the area which now is divided between Algeria and Morocco a fashionable and popular young lady inherits

heavy valuable granulated silver bracelets from her Mother, these silver bracelets were the wedding trousseau

of her grandmother too. …..they are important to the status of her family, and an indication to the other people she may meet at moussems and festivals of her importance in the hierarchy of her people. She is bound to this important link to her heritage, yet as a lady of fashionable status too, wants to add some of her vibrant personality to the jewels now that they belong to her.

She speaks to her friends about some amazing new and stylish beads which have been traded by a passing nomad which he brought from The markets of West Africa.
Her friend’s father is a silversmith, he recently visited silversmith far far to the east of their village and observed them working with glass to make enamelled Jewellery, something which is exotic and desirable in this village where just plain silver has been the art of the local smiths.

For her wedding day, she decides to ask the local silversmith if he can replicate the beautiful enamels from the eastern smiths. she brings him the exotic beads to use to add colour to her bracelets. She also asks him to replace the coral pieces with these beautiful new beads.

this mysterious bracelet is the result…..

The beads from the Western Markets give a different quality of work the smith sees this, but maybe the technique was a little off, but the girl has never seen these originals……she is delighted.

she creates a stir at her wedding wearing these stunning colourful bracelets.

The work of the local smith becomes a local hit

….her friends, as is the way with all peer groups all go to the local smith with the plain silver bracelets, Koran boxes and jewels they have, to also have some fashionable jewels created with added enamel.

And so a small amount of these enamelled pieces exist from a certain place in time in the Figuig area.

20 years later a girl from Figuig wears her mother’s bracelets to marry her husband, he lives in the Sirouan mountains. the bracelets are seen in passing by a travelling photographer, who records these unusual pieces as from Ait Ouarzguit.’

just a fantasy tale….but maybe just maybe!!!!!

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