25 May 2009

Trinkets from Oman. Part I

I promised a while back to show some pieces of old silver I collected when I lived in Muscat, in the Sultanate of Oman. This is the first installment in a series of 3 posts about these trinkets and the beautiful land they were crafted in.

The late 1980's was such a good time to be in Oman as there were still some lovely silver pieces to be found. Tourism was in its infancy and Oman was still a well kept secret! Things are rather different today - Omani women prefer fine gold jewllery and the traditional silversmith's workshop is a thing of the past. Much of the silver jewellery now on sale in the souks has actually entered the country from Yemen and is of inferior quality.

Omani jewellery had remained almost unchanged for many centuries and prior to the 1970's old pieces were always melted down to make new ones incorporating the same designs, quality of silver and methods of workmanship. Oil brought prosperity to Oman in the early 1970's and with it the affordability of gold. Traditional silver designs began to incorporate gold leaf or shapes hammered onto silver pieces but soon, those who could afford it, not only requested the addition of gold leaf or gold wash to their existing pieces, but also wanted items made in solid gold. The demise of the silversmith then began in earnest. Expatriates and visitors began to collect Omani silver jewellery and the disappearance of older pieces of Omani silver was also hastened by the dramatic rise in the price of silver on the world market. Women rushed to trade in their old fashioned silver and replace it with modern gold jewellelry. Some pieces were melted down and lost forever, though fortunately, in places, some women have kept their family silver as an heirloom and a few individuals have made comprehensive collections of silver, thus ensuring the preservation of at least some of Oman's silver heritage.

My collection is small, but beautiful and I love each individual piece! I have fond memories of the fun my friends and I had exploring tiny backstreet shops in the souks and rummaging around in tatty cardboard boxes and old baskets of junk for a piece of treasure! When one was unearthed it was usually pretty filthy, but it was all part of the fun to take it home to be lovingly restored to its former glory. Often such pieces would need a dunking in very hot water with a little detergent added and then a gentle workover with a toothbrush to remove years of ingrained dirt, before finally being buffed with a cloth and silver polish to reveal a handsome prize.

Silversmiths in Oman created jewellery with melted down silver coins such as the silver rupee and the Maria Theresa dollar (or thaler). Beautiful pieces with a high silver content were skillfully crafted. The sizeable hollow anklet pictured above is from Northern Oman and would have been worn by a married woman. In the Muscat area in particular, these large anklets were worn especially at weddings, as part of the bride's finery.

A matching pair of engraved bangles known as hagula, which are broad and hollow at the back, with a thinner and broader front section.

Two more bracelets. The spiky one is bossed and was known as a thorn bracelet. Some believe that these were originally fertility bracelets, with the bosses representing breasts. The other is an incised bracelet, probably worn by children, both boys and girls. It is likely that this was also worn as an anklet.

Here are some women's finger rings and babies' anklets or bracelets with little tinkling bells. Most women would have owned 10 basic rings, five pairs with a distinctive shape and style of ring being worn on each finger. I don't have a full set of these but those pictured here are (I think) as follows: the two outer rings with square decoration would have been worn on the third finger, while the ring with the red glass with Islamic star and crescent moon incised on the surface was worn on the 4th finger. The little ring with a pyramid of small, granulated silvers balls was worn on the 5th finger.

This decorative, delicate pendant is also very useful, as hanging from it are everyday implements - ear, nose and tooth picks and a little round container, possibly a perfume pot. The pendant rests on a traditional weaving of goat hair from Al Wusta in Central Oman.

This detailed etching of Omani jewellery is by my very talented artist friend, Judy Roberts. Do visit Judy's website where you can view her beautiful art. Judy is based in Dubai, which is where I first met her on one of her etching courses in the 1990's. She continues to etch beautifully, but I wasn't much good and never took it further! Nevertheless, we've been great pals ever since!

This is another lovely work by Judy entitled 'Silver and Tile'. A lot of Judy's work has an arabian theme. I love her beautiful limited edition prints . Judy is also well known for her detailed wildlife drawings and paintings - her butterfly prints are exquisite.

If you ever have the chance to travel to the Sultanate of Oman you will be enchanted by this magical land. I've scanned a few old pics (sorry, not the best quality!) to give you glimpse of this beautiful country - although the country has progressed in the past 20 years the spectacular landscape is little changed.

Click here to view larger

From the towering, rugged mountains and verdant coastal plains to the undulating splendour of the desert and barren interior plateaux, Oman's landscape is breathtaking.

Lush green oases are perfect places to explore. Swimming in the clear water pools or wadi bashing (driving along the dry river beds) in a 4x4 was such fun!

The undisturbed coastline is magnificent and the deep blue oceans are full of marine life - a diver's paradise. We used to camp out under the stars on this beach at Tiwi!

History is all around you in Oman - ancient forts and castles have been carefully preserved.

The Omani people are charming and their country is exhilarating! This is a shot of the Nizwa Goat Market which is still held every Friday in this old town. I had an SLR camera in those days and hadn't a clue how to use it out of automatic mode!! I'd love to go back with a digital camera - the photographic opportunities are no doubt still amazing!

To be continued.......


  1. Wow, extraordinary. The silver pieces are like miniature architecture. And Oman does look beautiful.

  2. Great history and great post!

    I loved the silver jewellery! Nice pieces to treasure.Indeed I like walking in the souks and going thru the collections and antiques.

    Its really nice to have 'met' you. It is indeed a small world. Were you in ARTE too? Is Judy still here? Her works are fabulous! Are you still in contact with Miriam? That must be really great. Nostalgic,huh!

    I look forward to your visits:)
    Have a nice day!

  3. Thanks for the appreciation...it means a lot!!!

  4. I was going to say that those jewelry setups would make great drawings and then as I scrolled down it was like magic...maybe I should concentrate on the lottery now that my powers have sufficiently grown...

  5. I really enjoyed your post on Oman and the wonderful jewellery you have collected Caroline. Those pieces are really lovely and obviously very cared for. Oman sounds a fascinating country and really beautiful. You are lucky to have lived in some wonderful places. I loved your friend's depictions. So intricate and detailed but I couldn't access her website for some reason. Even going through Google. Still I will try again another day as it is probably my computer playing up..lol.

  6. Wow, so lovely and intricated, I love your cool masterpiece collections here:)

  7. Another informative post! You've written it wonderfully Caroline, I think I already know all about Oman's silverworks now.haha I love those rings!:)

  8. Caroline! My goodness, how tragic that so much silver was lost. They are gorgeous treasures, and I prefer silver to gold anyway. Look at all that intricacy. Beautiful. And those etchings are incredible. She is a very talented artist. Thank you for this post. Oman is a stunningly beautiful place!

  9. I love travelling the world through your eyes...beautiful pieces...fabulous photos...intriguing stories...You've got it ALL going on! :)

    When you get a chance... email me your land addy... I have a 'little something" for you! LOL :)

  10. What a great post! Such a pity this beautiful craft is dying out. I prefer the old silver to gold any day and would give my eye teeth to wander about the souks hunting for old silver. Your friend's work is wonderful, especially the "Silver and Tile". I've so enjoyed looking at the pieces you've posted here. Love the piece with toothpicks and perfume pot. Oman looks intriguing. Thanks so much for sharing Caroline. I'm looking forward to the next installment.

  11. Oh my!!!! So much to take in and all of it stunning!

    I only wear silver. I love it.

    How is it you came to live in such exotic places?

  12. Magnificent, what a wonderful post Caroline. Thank you.

  13. Wow love your page - I also lived in Oman in the 1980s as a child and recently went back with my husband which was fantastic if not emotional. We had a look for older silver etc while we were there but gone are the days of digging in old boxes as it's just not there anymore which is a terrible shame.

    The country is still much the same apart from all the new roads and buildings so you need to venture back if you get the chance

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