Arab Costumes & Jewelry

Legacy without borders
legacy without borders

Arab Costumes & Jewelry

Jewellery and adornment are heritage. They belong to a culture, a people and harbor within themselves a history of craftmanship, creativity, inspiration, exchange and beliefs. This in turn serves as an inspiration for future designs that reflect upon that same long-standing heritage. It is from this perspective of both heritage and inspiration that Arab Costumes and Jewelry has been compiled.

The author, Iraqi-born fashion designer Hana Sadiq, blends Arabic art with haute couture in her designs. On her many travels across the Arab world she has collected an impressive collection of silver jewellery and costumes. These all share common values and reflect similarities rather than differences in this vast region that encompasses over 20 countries. The authors’ view however goes much further back in time than the establishing of borders: in fact, this is the only book I have read that devotes an entire section to borders from an Arab perspective. The author describes the difficulties in attributing a certain type of jewellery to a specific country, as the origins and development of designs and styles are far more complicated. Of course there is the factor of migratory craftsmen, who would travel from city to city, but she also calls our attention to forced migration as a result of war, occupation and division of lands (p. 21). The Armenian genocide and the dividing up of land based on the discovery of oil have had direct effects on jewellery as well. The subtitle, A Legacy Without Borders, captures this important yet often overlooked aspect of jewellery history. At the same time, it also reflects the purpose of this book: to emphasize the importance of unity in the Arab world in a time of division, and to continue to build on common values in producing and creating new art forms drawing upon this rich heritage.

To serve this end, the book is not a lengthy monograph but mostly a visual treasure. The introductory chapters present an overview of history, symbols and colours, textile styles and clothing types in a concise manner, followed by over 300 pages of jewellery and costumes. Chapters on anklets, necklaces, belts, bracelets, rings, earrings and head ornaments are followed by various items (mirrors, trays, daggers and many other intricately designed objects), and a large variety of costumes. What I especially valued is how hallmarks and silversmiths’ marks have often been included in separate enlargements.

The book also includes those items that are often left out of jewellery books because they have been altered, such as pendants turned into earrings. Like the author states in the introductory text, these changes as well form part of the cultural biography of a jewellery item. The attributions of some jewellery items may differ on occasion from what you will find in other reference books, a testimony to how far and wide jewellery travels.

The photography against a black background allows the jewellery to stand out, so as to observe details and design, and the wide variety in jewellery is a delight. Not just in designs and styles, the inclusion of both older and newer jewellery shows the continuation in craftmanship and creativity. Written in three languages, this rich volume unlocks the jewellery heritage of the Arab world for a wide audience: a wonderful addition to my reference library!

Arab Costumes and Jewelry. A Legacy Without Borders. By Hana Sadiq, 2014. 389 pages, trilingual (Arabic/English/French)

The book was purchased in the Hana Sadiq Gallery in Amman. For more info, see and her Instagram-account