History of jewelry in Iran

The Achaemenides era

The art of jewelry-making:

Jewelries are recognizable through the high quality of ornate decorations inlaid with jewels. These decorations are a well-known characteristic of the jewelry during the Achaemenides era. According to this style, different jewelries are decorated with precious gems, glass and ceramics in various colors. These pieces are placed on the nicks of the surface of the gold. This art was brought to Persia via Egyptian and Median artists and artisans.

Types of ornaments

Famous types of ornaments during the Achaemenides era are as follows:

  • Bracelets
  • Necklaces
  • Earrings

1- Bracelets:

 Bracelets that were common during the rule of the Achaemenides were made in a way that there was the head of an animal at one end of the bracelet. The image carved on these bracelets was the image of two lions eating two rams. Another common image was two birds of prey inlaid with gems. The bracelet was so popular during the Achaemenides era. One of the new features of bracelets during this period was the extensive use of ornate jewelries. The best example of these artefacts are those of the Oxus Treasure that have been influenced by the Egyptian art and they have been in the form of the heads and busts of two griffins.

  1. Necklaces:

The most invaluable example of necklaces of the Achaemenides era is the one found in the coffins buried in Susa that belong to the Oxus Treasure. This necklace is made of gold inlaid with gems and an image of a bird of prey and Ahura Mazda has been placed on it. There is another necklace of the Achaemenides era that is preserved in the National Museum of Iran with engraved lions hanging on a string of gold beads.

  1. Earrings:

The most noticeable feature of earrings of the Achaemenides era is the circular loop. The loop does not form a complete circle. There is an opening in the earrings with clamps to the left of the earrings and a connected post to fix them on the ears. These earrings have been seen on the ears of people wearing Parthian and Median clothes. These earrings composed one part of the gifts bestowed to the royal dynasty, too.

Different types of images used in the ornaments of the Achaemenides era:

Various types of images were used in the ornaments of the Achaemenides era. These images are as follows:

  • Griffins
  • Winged Disc or Faravahar
  • Deity of Bes
  1. Griffins:

Griffins are legendary animals with head of eagles, occasionally with a crest of the eagle, the body of a lion, wings of eagles, and eagles’ talons as its front feet. This creature is of the ancient origin emanating from Asia and manifesting a pristine Elamite art. Griffins were regarded the symbol of the sun and the light. At the same time, griffins were symbols of the king’s grandeur and superb power, capabilities of the army, the guardian forces and power. Griffins were a combination of the lion and an eagle.

The griffin was a unique creature of the Achaemenides era. The best examples of these legendary animals emerged during this period in abundance. In large sizes, griffins were used for capitals of buildings as well as ornaments. A special type of the griffin known as the horned griffin was created by the Achaemenides over that period which symbolized protection, support, richness and wealth.

  1. Winged Disc or Faravahar:

Winged Disc or Faravahar is usually seen in the shape of the bust of a man in clothes like those worn by an Achaemenides king. It symbolizes the Ahura Mazda. This image originated in Egypt in the 3rd millennium B.C. Wings of this object symbolizes being released and leaving the body.

Various shapes and designs of Winged Disc emerged during the Achaemenides era. The most common image was the bust of a man with wings, tails and talons of eagles.

  1. Deity of Bes:

Deity of Bes was the deity of happiness and entertainment for Egyptians. Probably, it entered Egypt via Sudan and other areas to the north of Africa. In the ancient Egypt, Deity of Bes with its long feather hat was depicted in various forms. One of the most important tasks od Deity of Bes was destroying the evil spirits, protecting kids and looking after the pregnant women in labor. During the Achaemenides era, the image of Bes and usually his face or head were used as an ornament or decoration on objects.

The Safavid era

Iranian mines and their operation during the Safavid era:

With its enormous mines and minerals, Iran is one of the richest countries in terms of subterranean resources. Prior to the Safavid era, few gems and other minerals were extracted and used. At that time, there were two main gems in Iran namely those existed in Iran such as the turquoise and pearl and gems that were brought to Iran by Iranian and foreign merchants.

The turquoise was one of the most important precious gem in Iran. The city of Neyshabur with its mountain known an Firoozeh-kooh (turquoise mount in Persian) has been the hub of this gem in Iran. Another common gem in Iran was the pearl. It was extracted galore through fishing and diving in Persian Gulf particularly around Bahrain whose pearls weighed a lot.

In addition to minerals, some gems mainly emerald and ruby were imported to Iran from its main extraction hubs such as Egypt, India, and Byrmany (old name of modern Myanmar).

Jewelry and gem cutting

During the Safavid era, artisans and craftsmen applied great delicacy for making gold threads. In his travelogues, Jean Chardin described Iranians as those with mediocre skills in engraving and with no information about enameling. According to him, jewelers of Tabriz could make nothing but ill-shaped rings.

Abbas II, a Safavid king, was greatly infatuated with European commodities. When European artisans and craftsmen entered Iran during his reign, new artistic works emerged as the result of Iranian art and interest with European styles. Gems were over that period but were not comparable to Europeans at all.

Royal reservoirs:

During the Safavid era some castles such as Qahqaheh Castle and Tabarak Castle were used for storing jewelries.  Some of the most important jewelries in these reservoirs include the Qezelbash Crown of the king, daggers and swords, Safavid crown, Iranian sword and the dagger inlaid with the gold.

Various types of works inlaid with jewelries:

Different types of artistic works inlaid with gems and jewelries were uses during the Safavid era. Some of the most common ones were as follows:

  • saddles and harnessed of animals
  • Iranian ornaments during the Safavid era
  • Ornaments used by men such as sword inlaid with gold, saddles and harnesses inlaid with gems, coats inlaid with jewelry and rings
  • Ornaments used by royal women and concubines
  • Furniture and utensils of royal palaces

Sources of royal jewelry

A portion of the jewelry at the Safavid reservoirs were purchased from the famous jewelry markets of Europe, India and Ottoman territories by the agents of the Safavid dynasty. Some of these items were sold to kings by the foreign merchants. However, a great portion of the jewelry was awarded to the king as a gift by his rulers and officers when he travelled to various regions.

Jewelry and war spoils

Safadi kings acquired a great deal of spoils during wars particularly when they attacked areas whose citizens where Christians.

Jewelry trade

After establishment of peace and security during the reign of Abbas I, the Safavid King, the stage was set for the prosperity of trade. Consequently, merchants and businessmen from different countries travelled to Iran for various commercial activities including the jewelry trade.