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This rare, museum-quality pair of Algerian Berber earrings is the only example of its type of which we are aware to have been made in gold. (Other examples are in silver.) Not only are they of gold but they are heavy – and weigh a total of 64.5 grams (2.28 ounces). The gold tests to at least 22 carat. As such they would have been commissioned by a particularly wealthy or aristocratic family.
Each is of large hoop form, with ‘saw-tooth’ protuberances, punched granulation work, and other punchwork. Each is further decorated with eight chains and pendants, and set with two Baroque pearls and a gold, pierced bead. Each chain ends with a ‘hand of Fatima’ talismanic terminal.
Each segment of each chain most probably was made by the goldsmith taking some gold wire, cutting it in to short segments and folding it into a circle and then simply hammering it flat.
Each element of each earring – the large hoops, and each hand of Fatima terminal has been separately stamped with an Algerian assay mark for gold. Such marks were used from around the middle of the 19th century.
The pendant chains – known as rihanna chains – are of varying length. Probably this reflects the specific quantity of gold that the goldsmith might have been given to complete the task.
A related pair without chains and pendants is illustrated in Seiwert (2009, p. 80). Another example is illustrated in Eudel (1906, p. 128) – this example also is without pendant chains but does include baroque pearls.
The form can be seen in jewellery from across northern Africa, and in Tunisia they are referred to as nab zmal or camel eye-teeth earrings. In Algeria they were called mecherfa.
This type of earring is associated with the Berber-speaking Chaoui people of the Aures Mountains, the eastern prolongation of the Atlas Mountains that rise to the east of the Saharan Atlas in north-eastern Algeria and north-western Tunisia, North Africa.
The pair is in excellent condition and has obvious age.
Eudel, P., Dictionnaire des Bijoux de l’Afrique du Nord: Maroc, Algerie, Tunisie, Tripolitaine, Ernest Leroux, Paris, 1906.
Seiwert, W.D., Jewellery from the Orient: Treasures from the Bir Collection, Arnoldsche Art Publishers, 2009.