This exceptional finery is part of the ten pieces of jewellery in gold and precious stones worn by Moroccan Jewish women bequeathed to the mahJ by Michel Schulmann in 2006.
The most remarkable pieces are an articulated diadem (taj) and heavy ear ornaments hung from the hair at the temples (khoras amara). In addition to this finery, a necklace with a bird medallion (serdokh) adorned with filigree and emeralds, and fibulas (tizerzaï) attaching a light shoulder veil, were also worn. These pieces could be replaced by other types of necklaces such as the Tazra with three medallions and various forms of earrings (Khras Kbach, or Duwwah el-mehdor), complemented by bracelets called debliz sems ugmar (“sun and moon”) due to their joint use of gold and silver.
This jewellery was worn for the first time on the wedding day then became part of the married woman’s ceremonial dress denoting her family’s social status. Communities had institutions that could loan modest families jewellery for marriages.
Pieces like this were made by Jewish jewellers in the northern towns and cities. The history of Moroccan jewellery and precious metalwork is closely linked to that of Jewish silversmiths, who were almost alone in practicing these crafts in Morocco until the mid-20th century, for both a Jewish and Muslim clientele. This quasi-monopoly in all the Muslim countries in the Middle East and around the Mediterranean rim was due to the prohibition of usury, since Islam considers as such the sale of objects fashioned in gold or silver for a sum superior to that of their weight. This prohibition did not apply to Jewish craftsmen, whose forced or voluntary mobility ensured the circulation of their skills.
The mellah, the Jewish quarter in Moroccan towns and cities, was also home to these craftsmen and jewellers, whose modest premises were both workshops and shops, as shown by numerous photographs taken in the late 19th and early 20th century.
The creations of the urban precious metalsmiths differed in their predominant use of gold, adorned with baroque pearls and precious stones such as emeralds and rubies, whereas the jewellery of the rural populations was exclusively silver, due less for financial reasons than the belief in the protective qualities of its white colour.
Moroccan jewellery and its forms were greatly revitalised by the arrival of Jews expelled from Spain in 1492, many of whom were silversmiths and goldsmiths. The cities where they mainly settled, Fez and Tétouan, have remained the principle centres of urban jewellery in Morocco.
Decorative motifs included eagles, sometimes two-headed, pigeons and doves, often in couples. There are also bird motifs on the gold embroideries on the fronts of “grandes robes” and in the decoration of marriage contracts (ketubbot).