· BY ·

Desert Jewels: North African Artistry

The Desert Jewels collection draws upon the rich traditions of the Amazigh people, or Berbers, who live in the North African mountains and deserts of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.
Lavish ornaments are used to secure garments (Morocco, late 19th–early 20th century)

Lavish ornaments are used to secure garments (Morocco, late 19th–early 20th century)

This free-spirited collection of necklaces, bracelets, and earrings evokes the opulent jewelry that is essential to the identity of the Amazigh.

Indigenous North African adornments use ancient techniques that evolved from Byzantine and Visigothic practices, including niello, filigree, enameling, and the art of bezel settings. Key jewelry traditions prevail. An Amazigh bride receives important pieces from her groom, and it can signify her social status, wealth, and group identity as well as her artistry and taste.

Hanging pendants jingle lightly as a woman moves (Morocco, 19th century)

Hanging pendants jingle lightly as a woman moves (Morocco, 19th century)

Head ornaments, earrings, pendants, bracelets, and brooches accentuate and connect different parts of a woman’s body. Some make pleasing sounds when the wearer moves. The overall aesthetic suggests richness, fertility, and plenty.

Jewelry also offers protection, especially against the malevolent “evil eye.” Popular defensive symbols include the five-fingered hand in many forms (khamsa); three-pronged pendants; and the triangle shape, one of the most common motifs in Amazigh art.

The triangle is considered effective against the evil eye (Algeria, late 19th–early 20th century)

The triangle is considered effective against the evil eye (Algeria, late 19th–early 20th century)

Red coral from the Algerian coast and precious amber are both considered protective, with amber also used for medicinal purposes, though these materials are now often replaced with synthetics. Silver is valued for its luminosity and is also believed to have beneficial qualities. Brilliant hand enameling in green, blue, and yellow adds eye-catching color.

Inspiration for this new jewelry is found across the Met’s collection–from intricate Berber fibula jewelry, chest ornaments, and beaded necklaces, to the evocative desert colors of paintings of North Africa, to finely worked embroidery and hand-painted ceramic tiles. The Desert Jewels collection reimagines these sources with a modern, bohemian sensibility.

Paul Klee painted his vibrant “Temple Gardens” in Tunisia in 1920

Paul Klee painted his vibrant “Temple Gardens” in Tunisia in 1920

Copyright © 2016 The Metropolitan Museum of Art. All rights reserved. 1000 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10028.
Terms & Conditions · Privacy