Articles of jewelry made and worn by the Bedouin tribes in Saudi Arabia. The jewelry is almost always of silver, frequently set with turquoise, sometimes with stones of reddish colour. The pieces have distinctive forms and styles, with ornamentation frequently of chains, beads, bells and such local objects as Koran cases.
A woman’s jewelry symbolizes her status as a married women and later as a mother, as it is customary to gift one’s wife with jewelry for the birth of each child.
Traditionally, jewelry has also been thought to have magical powers. Turquoise in particular is believed to ward off the “evil eye.” At one time, popular legend had it that a turquoise stone would glow when its wearer was happy, but when the wearer was sad, the stone would become dull. Another popular myth was that the tiny tinkling bells prominent on so many pieces of Arabian jewelry would protect the wearer by frightening off malevolent spirits with their noise.
In Arabian custom, the color of certain stones is also deemed to affect their powers. Green, blue and red are regarded as possessing protective abilities. For that reason turquoise, agate, coral and colored glass are among the most popular materials used in antique jewelry.
Islamic motifs permeate jewelry design. Amulet cases containing tiny pieces of paper with verses from the Holy Qur’an to protect the wearer are common. The sign of the hand on Saudi necklaces has been a talisman for hundreds of years. The number five is the mathematical equivalent of the hand, as well as representing the five tenets of Islam. Thus, bracelets or rings may be worn in multiples of five, and the preferred number of beads on an ornament or chains hanging from a pendant would also be five.
Arabian Bedouin jewelry is significant not only for its aesthetic qualities, but also for the historical influences it exhibits. During the course of its own evolution over many centuries, the jewelry of the Bedouin has incorporated techniques and styles of the jewelry of other long-dead civilizations. This has excited archaeologists, as these very personal objects provide a window to the past and the people who owned them. Observers have noted that similarities in the design and craftsmanship of Bedouin jewelry can be attributed to the cross-influence that migration and trade had on the region.