Ethnic jewelry of the republics of Central Asia

Turkmen girl wearing traditional guljaka ornament. Photo source

The republics of Central Asia region are Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kirgizstan and Turkmenistan. The culture of this area has been influenced over the centuries by the many foreign travelers of the legendary Silk Route as well as by the invasive tribal groups of Mongolia and has much in common. Jewelry worn by women of the region, though with some regional differences and preferences, has also much in common.
Gold, silver, turquoise and rubies were mined in Central Asia since ancient times, which led to development of the craft of jewelry-making. The types of jewelry worn by a person varied according to the wearer's age - girls and young women wore more jewelry than older women; social status - the richer the family, the larger and more diverse was the collection of jewelry worn by the woman; and the purpose of decoration: ornaments for festive occasions were most luxurious.

Traditional Uzbek bracelet. Silver, turquoise, carnelian. Photo source

One of the most popular types of ornaments in this region of Central Asia were numerous amulets and talismans known in most parts as tumar and worn to avert demons and the evil eye. Tumar is a small container made from silver or gold that comes in many shapes and was used to keep in a charm or a piece of paper with a prayer written on it. In most cases tumar had the form of a triangle, in Bukhara it was tube-shaped with silver filigree work and blue stones.

Turkmen tumar amulet. Late 19th - early 20th century. Gilded Silver, carnelian beads. Photo source

19th century Turkmen pectoral. Silver, gilt, stamped and engraved, with carnelian. Cuff bracelets. Silver, gilt and engraved, with carnelian. Museum of Oriental Arts, Moscow

Another popular types of jewelry were bracelets and earrings. Bracelets were often made in pairs and worn on both hands and sometimes, depending on the wearer’s wealth, several pairs may have been worn at the same time. Bracelets could be decorated with patterns, or inlaid with turquoise, carnelian, mother of pearl, pearls or blue coloured glass. Carnelian was especially popular in this region. People believed that this stone could protect from death, illness and infertility and bring good luck and peace to the wearer. In addition, it was believed that the stone could return youthful vigour and good spirits to the elderly. Often bracelets had inscriptions engraved on them, such as spells to attract success, or they were decorated with totems - figures resembling animals. Among Kirgiz the ends of the open-ended bracelets were often made in the shape of snakes' or frogs' heads - symbols of fertility, or in the shape of the head of a dragon - a symbol of authority and wisdom, or the hoofs of a yak - a symbol of good luck.

Turkmen earrings, late 19th. Silver, stamped and engraved, with carnelians. Museum of Oriental Arts, Moscow

Uzbek earrings, 19th century Silver, with granulation; carnelian, turquoise and mother-of-pearl. Museum of Oriental Arts, Moscow 

Earrings shapes and sizes varied widely, and they were lavishly decorated, with precious and semiprecious stones. Kazakh women used to wear big, long, earrings with pearls, and the longer the earrings, the higher social status of the woman. Kirgyz women wore earring of complicated pattern made with small pendants and chains. 
 Jewelry-making was particularly favoured in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. "While but a single woman remains on earth, the jeweler's craft will not die," says an Uzbek proverb. Jewelry of these republics is characterized by its intricate designs and wide use of corals, turquoise and pearls which set off the dark skin of southern women to the best advantage.

Uzbek women, 1917. Photo source

Uzbek Djiviak necklace,19th century. Silver, gilt and stamped, with glass studs and corals. Museum of Oriental Arts, Moscow

Turkmen jewelry is distinguished by its size and massiveness and geometric or plant designs with wide use of studs of dark cherry-coloured or golden cornelian or glass. A fringe of rustling pendants made of chains is aslo a typically Turkmen feature found in many ornaments.
Guljaka is perhaps one of the favourite and most widely spread ornaments worn by Turkmen women. Like a brooch or a clasp it fastens the neck of the dress. It could be of different sizes, the largest being almost as big as a sunflower. Guljaka ornaments are probably symbols of the ancient solar cult and are worn to attract goodwill and happiness.
Another characteristic Turkmen ornament is a necklace called dagdan. Dagdan means dawn and symbolizes life. It was believed that dagdan protected their owners from evil spirits and ailments. They were of various sizes and shapes, but the most widely found types were shaped as beetles, birds or frogs or had combining features.

Turkmen guljaka ornament. Late 19th or early 20th century. Silver, gilt, stamped and engraved, set with carnelians and glass. Museum of Oriental Arts, Moscow

Turkmen dagdan pendant. Silver, gilt, carnelians. Photo source

The asyk ornament is a decoration to be hanged at or between women's two plaits. It was gifted to the bride by the groom's parents at the time of the wedding and was worn for the first time by her in the house of her husband. It is a heart-shaped silver plate worn on the back. It varies in length, sometimes it can be as long as twelve inches. The asyk was considered a fertility amulet and was worn by the woman until the birth of her first son.
In Kazakhstan one jewelry type was particularly worn by women of advanced age. They were the massive signet rings called "the matchmaker’s ring". In some of them decorative surface had the diameter of 7 sm. Such signet rings were worn on two fingers at once,and so they symbolized the unity of two young people in marriage. Such rings were presented by the matchmaker to the mother of the bride for protection who could give it to the daughter-in-law. Kazakh women normally wore either three or four rings. They were worn daily, and every woman was expected to wear rings because it was believed that otherwise the food she prepared would be unclean. Kazakhs have a saying, "In order for food to be clean, a ring should be on the hand."

Turkmen women wearing traditional jewelry. Photo source

Kazakh jewelry, late 19th or early 20th century. Match-maker's ring with a circular bezel. Silver, gilt, decorated with stamped granulation and glass inlays. Detail of pectoral. Silver, gilt, decorated with stamped granulation and glass inlays. Finger-ring with an oval bezel. Silver, gilt, engraved and stamped, with glass inlays. Museum of Oriental Arts, Moscow

It is interesting that nose rings in this region of Central Asia were only worn by the Uzbeks, Tajiks and Karakalpaks. They were worn in the right nostril and often decorated with a spiral shaped curl of gold wire and with stones such as coral or turquoise.

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  1. Wow!!! It was very interesting to read about their jewellery...and how it has meaning behind wearing them!!! Thank you for sharing!!!! :)

  2. This is such an interesting to know about The Central Asia jewellery. I love all the necklaces details. and about the bride jeweleries. The culture is kind of Javanese culture here.

    Thanks for sharing, I love the head ornaments that the two girls wear, and the Uzbek earings, I wish I could have one - that woul be insteresting thing to wear.

    Have a wonderful day my dear friend.


  3. I love your blog! I'm learning so much. Thanks for sharing about this beautiful jewellery and the customs behind it. How beautiful the women look. I hadn't heard of jewellery worn on the back before. Also the custom of wearing rings to make the food clean. In our culture if people wear rings while preparing food by hand we think it is unclean! Have a lovely day.

  4. I'd kill for all that jewellery, I love those heavy tribal pieces so much! x

  5. Beautiful pieces. The designs are so intricate -- the craftsmanship is superb!

  6. I lately joined one of our customers visiting jewelries in our town. But nowhere I saw such a variety, such wonderful pieces.
    Sabine xxx

  7. As always, your posts are full of information and expert knowledge, Olga. The jewellery is exquisite, look at those fabulous earrings! xxx

  8. ABSOLUTELY GOURGEOUS PICS:) Your blog is lovely and different..
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  9. so pretty :)
    Thank You for share nice information. check here for latest jewelry trends Vogue Crafts and Designs

  10. Thanks so much. This jewellery is so pretty. I like that the jewellery looks vintage.

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