Afghanistan adornment

What is ‘Kuchi’ jewellery?

It’s a popular term: ‘Kuchi jewellery’, a firm favourite in so-called tribal fusion dance costumes. Also spelled Koochi or Kochi, it often refers to jewellery with colourful glass insets, broadly coming from Afghanistan and Pakistan. But what does ‘Kuchi’ mean?

A Pashtun dress ornament from Afghanistan

Who are the Kuchi?

Basically, ‘Kuchi’ is not a specific people, but a generic term used for a wide range of peoples in Afghanistan, but also in Pakistan and Iran. [1] The word ‘kuch’ itself is Farsi and means ‘migration’. The term is used widely these days, both in the region itself and by cultural outsiders, but as you might expect, ‘Kuchi’ is not what those peoples called themselves.

This is also where it gets complicated when it comes to jewellery research, because as ‘Kuchi’ is a relatively recent term, you will not find references to ‘Kuchi jewellery’ in any of the older standard works on jewellery from Afghanistan. [2]

Tribes in Afghanistan: more than just one people

The geographic area inhabited by the peoples called ‘Kuchi’ today is incredibly complex when it comes to tribal, cultural and ethnic identities and affiliations. I wrote a little about the difficulties of pinning just one label on jewellery here, and those difficulties apply to ‘Kuchi jewellery’ as well.

Political, social, religious and cultural changes in the past decades have left their mark on the many peoples living in this region as well as on borders of countries. The Pashtun are the largest group, but Turkmen, Uzbek, Tajik, Kazakh, Baluch and Hazara people live in current-day Afghanistan as well.

As a result of decades of war, many have fled to Pakistan and further afield – it is impossible to capture the details and the effects of recent history in one short blog post, but a list of resources to start reading is here.

Pashtun silver ring with red glass

What is Kuchi jewellery?

Under this umbrella term, many styles and people who wore these items ressort. The jewellery styles share a visual language with the western Himalayas and are worn as far away as northern India as well.

There is no straightforward, clear distinction in attributing jewellery items in a region with such a kaleidoscope of peoples, shifting allegiances and changing spheres of influence. An in-depth study of the jewellery we simply call ‘Kuchi’ today could shed light on all of these aspects, as jewellery is a powerful historic source.

Afghan jewellery heritage

Alfred Janata has attempted to provide an overview as best he could in his book on Afghan jewellery.

The ornaments with red, green and blue glass that are most often labeled as ‘kuchi’ were mainly sold in Khost in the eastern Afghan province of Paktya, but created in Pakistan: once again, current-day borders are not synonym with cultural differences. According to Janata, these ornaments were worn by nomadic women who either spent the winter season in Paktya or whose migration routes crossed this province. [3].

Ornaments with smaller inlays of green and red glass (so not blue) were called Katawaz according to Janata, and may have been worn by nomadic women traveling between the winter pastures in Paktya and Katawaz, where the summer pastures were located. [4]

The famous chokers with glass inlays and dangles were worn mainly by the Pashtun in the south and southeast of Afghanistan [5], and so the book provides an overview of Afghanistan’s jewellery heritage.

Two Afghani chokers, likely Pashtun

Kuchi ornaments

The article by Hejzlarova, Susek et al [6] presents several types of ornament worn by the people called Kuchi today. They note most of the jewellery worn by women focuses on the upper part of the body like head adornment, ear and nose plugs, choker necklaces, amulet necklaces, rings and bracelets.

Kuchi jewellery is not made of sterling silver, but of an alloy comparable to nickel silver or ‘German’ silver, consisting of copper, zinc and nickel. The small amount of silver in these jewels was obtained from silver coins.

Modern-day Kuchi jewellery and the West

Nowadays, the jewellery pieces offered as ‘kuchi’ are usually entirely newly produced, due to the high demand for these pieces in the West. In these, a new colour palette emerges: pink, neon green, purple or bright yellow glass have been added to the original colour schemes.

The use of uniform colours in jewellery pieces is also indicative of new production: pieces executed in one colour only, notably the popular chokers, are almost certainly newly made. Actual vintage pieces have become increasingly rare.

That is not simply a matter of ‘fake’ items: creating and selling jewellery is the main source of income for many displaced people in this war-torn region. It has become a symbol of identity proudly worn by Afghans in the diaspora.

In that respect, the term ‘kuchi’ has taken on new meaning: from a term coined by cultural outsiders with little to no regard for the differences (and similarities!) of the many cultural groups in the region, it has evolved into a term used by people from Afghanistan as well to represent their cultural heritage. [7]

Afghani styles of many peoples

So, while ‘Kuchi jewellery’ remains a generic term for the jewellery styles of many social groups in Afghanistan and beyond, a group of jewellery that needs much more detailed research to pinpoint their similarities and differences, one thing is clear: it is an expression of heritage and identity for many.

Where can I find more on traditional jewellery from Southwest Asia and North Africa?

More on traditional jewellery from Southwest Asia and North Africa? Browse the jewellery blog here!

Never miss a thing on jewellery news? Join the Jewellery List and find them in your inbox each month!

Looking for background information on your jewellery? Have a look at the courses – there’s so much available on the world of the jewellery you love!

More tips on collection management and research? Check this free resource or download the e-book!


[1] Tapper, R. 2008. Who are the Kuchi? Nomad self-identities in Afghanistan, in: Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 14, pp. 97-116.

[2] Janata, A. 1981. Schmuck in Afghanistan, does not mention ‘Kuchi’ for example – the term was not used as widely as it is today. Neither do Stuckert & Bucherer-Dietschi  1981, Schmuck und Silberschmiedearbeiten in Afghanistan und Zentralasien : Schmuck in Sammlungen, Bibliotheca Afghanica, which has an emphasis on Turkmen jewellery in Afghanistan.

[3] Janata 1981, p. 68.

[4] Janata 1981, p. 70.

[5] Janata 1981, p. 74.

[6] Hejzlarova, T., L. Dusek (2019) Kuchi Jewellery, in: Annals of the Naprstek Museum 40/2, pp. 27-48.

[7] Among many other things: the adaptation of the world ‘kuchi’ has many other implications, as the article by Tapper explores. See also Hejzlarova et al., p. 33, who observe there is very little known about this type of jewellery, but an abundance of misinformation in circulation.

Sigrid van Roode

Sigrid van Roode is an archeologist, ethnographer and jewellery historian. Her main field of expertise is jewellery from North Africa and Southwest Asia, as well as archaeological and archaeological revival jewellery. She has authored several books on jewellery. Sigrid has lectured for the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, Turquoise Mountain Jordan, and many others. She provides consultancy and research on jewellery collections for both museums and private collections, teaches courses and curates exhibitions. She is not involved in the business of buying and selling jewellery, and focuses on research, knowledge production, and education only.