A Modern Take on Traditional Berber Style Jewelry
Article by: Chatham Hellmers
Part of the pleasure of working with jewelry is the endless potential for learning new and interesting things. I came across some jaw-dropping jewelry made by the indigenous people of Morocco on a recent vacation, and had to find out more about that fascinating stuff!
With a history that dates back over 9000 years, Morocco’s indigenous people, the Berbers, refer to themselves as the “Amazigh”, meaning “free people” or “noble ones”. Berber jewelry is mostly made of low-purity silver (about 80 percent silver). It is often enameled or accented with glass, coral, lapis, Amber, coins and shells. The most often worn pieces are necklaces (usually quite large and chunky), fibulae (a sort of large triangular brooch used as a clasp for fabric robes), bracelets, headpieces (known as Taounza, or diadems) and talismanic pendants. Often pendants are shaped like the hand of Fatima (Hamsa), which is a symbol of a human hand thought to deflect evil and gossip. On our trip to Morocco I was struck with the sheer variety of hamsas, from earrings to large metal wall hangings. The theme is woven into rugs and painted on ceramics, printed on t-shirts and emblazoned on beach towels- it has become the unofficial symbol for Morocco. I like the symbol because it’s like the original analogy for the expression for “talk to the hand”.
The dramatic scale of the jewelry was a total style inspiration for me- the combinations of the Amber beads and Coral-encrusted pendants look impossibly chic, and since seeing the stacks of textured and heavily-ornamented silver bracelets, I think “too much” is just about enough.
Now that I’ve fallen head-over-heels in love with Berber jewelry, I’m seeing the influence of it in some modern designs. Aside from the ubiquitous Hamsa being heavily featured in contemporary jewelry, designers such as Yves Saint Laurent (who was born in neighboring Algeria and had a fabulous house in Marrakech, Morocco) all the way to Gucci (In their spring/summer 2019 cruise collection) Berber style has branched into contemporary looks.