Coral and glass bead necklace

Berber, early 20th century AD
From Kabyle, Algeria

This coral and glass bead necklace has silver chains, coins, an engraved central disc-shaped pendant, a filigree spherical bead, enamelled plaques and dagger-shaped amulets. Daggers were used as motifs on women's jewellery to avert the evil eye, in particular a female spirit, qarina, who was believed to harm children and pregnant women.

The Berber produce elaborate jewellery of different combinations of stones and precious metals which have various symbolic values. Gold and silver was available in Morocco but coins from Europe had to be melted down once these became more scarce. For those Berbers who lived near towns gold jewellery was highly prized but was considered a symbol of vice amongst village and nomadic Berbers. Silver was thought to symbolize honesty and purity and is particularly beneficial combined with other stones with magical properties: topaz combats jaundice; emeralds prevent snake bites and rubies encourage a healthy heart.

Coral is found along the Algerian coast and is believed to protect children and the community from evil, lightning and tidal waves, as well as enhancing fertility. It is though to contain much baraka, or good fortune.

Techniques such as filigree, enamelling and cloisonné work are thought to have been introduced by immigrant Jewish silversmiths. As most Berbers regard working with metals as an inferior occupation, Jewish silversmiths passed on their skills from generation to generation.

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More information

Bibliography

J. Mack (ed.), Ethnic jewellery-1 (London, The British Museum Press, 1988)

A. Fisher, Africa adorned (London, Collins, 1984)

Dimensions

Museum number

AOA 1907.3-16.3

EAF15038

Gift of Mrs Eustace Smith

Location

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