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This Omani necklace comprises a large, round silver sunburst disk decorated with dark niello motifs and inset with a central gold plaque; multiple barrel-shaped silver beads; four silver Maria Theresa thaler coins, two smaller engraved sunburst disks, and four silver rings set with old protruding branch coral.
Importantly, all elements have wear and patina demonstrating their age.
The necklace closes with the original plaited cotton cord.
Such a necklace was both a store of wealth and served a talismanic purpose: the sunburst motif and the coral elements were thought important for protecting the wearer.
Maria Theresa thalers have been struck in Austria since the reign of Empress Maria Theresa of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Empress died in 1780 and since that time, all thalers that were subsequently struck were minted with that date regardless of the actual year that they were produced. The coins achieved such a level of trust for their silver content (which is 83.3% silver) in the Middle East that neither the design nor the date was varied, and so for more than 200 years the coins were used as an international currency among the tribes and the states of the Middle East, in much the same was as the Spanish dollar was used as an international currency at the time elsewhere. The thalers were used to complete most important transactions locally and were also given as dowries. They were also an important source of silver and were melted locally for jewellery.
The coins made their way to the ports of the Red Sea, Egypt and northern Africa from the ports of Genoa, Trieste, Livorno and Marseille. European traders used the coins to buy precious materials from the Gulf and northern Africa which it desired – commodities such as spices, coffee, gum Arabic, indigo, pearls, and tortoise shell.
The importance and the beauty of the coins saw them incorporated into local jewellery most particularly in Oman and Yemen.
The necklace here is in excellent condition. It is stable and wearable. It also has obvious age. This type of necklace that includes both niello work and original coral elements is now rare.
Al-Jadir, S., Arab & Islamic Silver, Stacey International, 1981.
Borel, F., The Splendour of Ethnic Jewelry: From the Colette and Jean-Pierre Ghysels Collection, Thames & Hudson, 1994.
Harrigan, P., ‘Tales of a Thaler’, Saudi Aramco World, January/February 2003.
Ransom, M., Silver Treasures from the Land of Sheba: Regional Yemeni Jewelry, AUC Press, 2014.