Turkmen Are Many
The beauty of Turkmen jewelry engages the imagination – as well as a curiosity to know exactly how all this lavishness came about.
While large size is the hallmark of Turkmen tribal jewelry, many nuances distinguish the different tribal origins of individual pieces.
The Turkmen comprise more than 20 distinct tribal groups. Of these, the most celebrated are the Teke (Tekke), Ersari, Yomut, Choudur, and Saryk – so celebrated that they are memorialized on today’s Turkmenistan Flag, represented by 5 stars and 5 respective carpet designs.
Tekke Turkmen Jewelry
To many people, Tekke (Teke) is the archetypal form of Turkmen tribal jewelry. It is characterized by a thin layer of gold-wash (gilding) that highlights symbolic designs on an underlying silver base. Teke pieces are almost always studded with oval-shaped, vibrant-red carnelian or glass beads set in raised bezels.
Tekke jewelry is highly artistic, with stylized birds, flames and spiritual creatures etched into the gold-highlighted silver surface. Borders of rams horns, bird heads, or trefoil motifs frequently run along one or more edges, with long clattering chain-dangles hanging below to make a wonderful sound with movement.
Teke jewelry is usually constructed in 3 dimensions, with 2 silver layers (front and back) separated by a hollow space in between. Given the enormous size of Turkmen jewelry, this technique allows for the piece to be more light weight and easier to wear than if it were completely solid.
Teke Turkmen jewelry is extraordinarily beautiful, and highly prized by collectors. It is one of my absolute favorites.
Ersari Turkmen Jewelry
In contrast to the ornate Tekke flourishes, the jewelry of the Ersari Turkmen is elegantly understated – at least by Turkmen standards. It is still grandiose, but with a more subdued surface treatment, which generally consists of a single or 2 intersecting lines spanning the entire piece. The remainder is left unadorned, except, of course for the obligatory Turkmen eye-shaped beads and dangles.
In many ways, making Ersari Turkmen jewelry is an extremely challenging achievement. It has an unforgiving artistry, relying as much on the spaces between the design elements as on the elements themselves. Balance and precision are a must. Each line and bead is meaningful and precise.
While some less refined Ersari pieces have endured, old Ersari Turkmen jewelry pieces with quality construction are getting harder and harder to find. Whenever my Turkmen friends in Central Asia find some for me, I post them on my Tribal Muse websites to show.
Yomut Turkmen Jewelry
If Ersari jewelry is understated, then Yomut Turkmen jewelry is over the top. This is the most ornate and lavish of all the Turkmen tribal jewelry traditions – and the most captivating. It is easy to stare at Yomut pieces, wondering how in the world these people made such extraordinary jewelry using the simplest of tools. I still do not know how it was possible for them to do it.
But they did. Yomut jewelry, like other Turkmen jewelry is big, bold, and laden with symbolic cultural meaning. But it goes beyond that. Way beyond that.
Yomut Turkmen jewelry pulls out all the stops. In its most flamboyant form, a piece of Yomut jewelry may be gilded entirely with gold, embossed, studded with multi-colored beads, and haphazardly adorned with numerous decorative plaques and medallions fused to the surface.
Of course not all Yomut pieces are quite so elaborate. Some may have only one or two of those attributes, the most notable being the fused decorative plaques or stylized rams horns. Regardless, Yomut Turkmen tribal jewelry is extremely collectible, and breathtakingly beautiful.
If Turkmen jewelry intrigues you as much as it intrigues me, then my next blog entry may be enticing. In Part III of this series, I explore cultural symbolism as seen through the lens of Turkmen tribal jewelry – one of my favorite topics!
Please join me for the next installment – and anytime to share your comments and experiences. I would love to hear from you.