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Jewellery search terms

There is a world of information available on jewellery from North Africa and Southwest Asia, as well as an abundance of photographs and pictures. But how to find these? Searching for these in English will return many results, but there is so much more. What are jewellery items actually called in Arabic or Tamazight, for example? Additionally, there is an entire world of German, French, Italian and Spanish museums and collectors, who have online databases available or share their items on platforms such as Pinterest. Getting a handle on these helps you expand your search results.

Jewellery abroad Why are there so many jewellery items from the Arab world in European and U.S. collections? This is related to the history of these items. From the early 19th century onwards, jewellery appears as subject in Western books and articles about North Africa and Southwest Asia. From the late 19th century onwards, jewellery was sold to cultural outsiders. This accelerated from the 1960’s onwards, when jewellery was sold off in large quantities. The reasons for selling jewellery were because ‘traditional’ jewellery was increasingly regarded as old-fashioned, like almost everywhere else in the world, but also as a result of wars, displacement and violence. [1] That jewellery in turn was bought by foreigners, either for museums or for personal collections. Those could be travelers, tourists and hippies, but also migrant workers such as engineers, teachers and archaeologists. The place where they would find silver jewellery at first, was with wholesale silver dealers.  These bought up local jewellery in bulk, and their aim was to melt it down into raw silver, which would then be used for new creations. [2] Many specialized jewellery and antique stores were established in the 1980’s, catering specifically to the needs of foreigners.

The world behind search terms These jewellery items ended up in a variety of countries, and it’s here that expanding your search terms beyond English comes into view. Not just because jewellery items were sold to Western people, but also because Western languages remained in use in occupied countries. Egyptian antiquaries, their country for a long time having been controlled by the British, offer their wares mainly in English, while French is the predominant Western language in the Maghreb. So you see how even something as seemingly innocent as jewellery search terms reflects colonial structures, something to be actively aware of. Knowing all this means you can start to use search terms strategically to gain an overview beyond language barriers that have since divided the information available on this jewellery. The pieces themselves have been scattered around several continents and their stories are told in different languages: adopting an integral approach in your research is essential.

Unlocking stories Knowing which other languages to use will broaden your horizon, result in more parallels (see why this matters here), and help you understand them better. Starting with their actual names for example, which will help you in turn to preserve their identity and share their stories. Here is an interesting example of how one amulet is known under different names in various languages.

To help you get started with exploring the world of jewellery in other languages, I have compiled a free resource of basic jewellery terms in 7 languages. These will get you on your way to see search results that searching in one language would never present: find it here!


[1] As Hana Sadiq describes in her book Arab Costumes & Jewelry

[2] This process is described for example by Azza Fahmy in Enchanted Jewellery of Egypt, 2007

Sigrid van Roode

Sigrid van Roode is an archeologist, ethnographer and jewellery historian. She considers jewellery heritage and a historic source. She has authored several books on jewellery from North Africa and Southwest Asia, and on archaeological jewellery. Sigrid has lectured for the Society of Jewellery Historians, the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden and the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center, among many others. She curates exhibitions and teaches online courses on jewellery from North Africa & Southwest Asia.