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This wonderful (and wonderfully old) pectoral or pendant chest ornament known as a dagdan is from the Teke people of Afghanistan (the Teke are spread across Afghanistan and Cenyral Asia.) It is of parcel-gilt (partially gold plated) silver that has been pieced, and decorated with carnelians or agates and green-coloured glass beads cabochons in silver box settings.
Importantly, all the carnelians are genuine and old. Later examples use red glass. Also, many of the carnelians are domed (rather than being flat) which is also suggestive of age.
Carnelian stones were believed to protect the wearer against miscarriage and disease. Red itself was associated with happiness and fertility. Carnelians also have a special place in Islam – the Prophet Mohamed is believed to have worn a silver ring mounted with a carnelian stone.
The main body of the ornament comprises two plates (the front and the back) that have been fused together. The backing plate is of plain, sheet silver. From this,15 pendant drops, each decorated with stones, are suspended.
A black and white cotton cord runs through the top loops of the pendant drops. This is original – many genuinely old examples that have been published also have precisely this same coloured cord.
A related example is illustrated in Seiwert (2009, p. 234).
The fire gilding that has been used is characteristic of Tekke jewellery. The process involved the application of an amalgam of mercury and gold to the surface of the silver. Heating causes the mercury to evaporate leaving a gold layer fixed to the surface. The process was extremely dangerous on account of the mercury fumes.
The example here is in excellent condition and have a fine patina and very clear age. All the stones are original.
van Cutsem, A., A World of Head Ornaments: Africa, Asia Oceania, America, Skira, 2005.
Ghose, M. (ed.), Vanishing Beauty: Asian Jewelry and Ritual Objects from the Barbara and David Kipper Collection, Art Institute of Chicago, 2016.
Hoek, C., et al, Ethnic Jewellery: From Africa, Asia and Pacific Islands, Pepin Press, 2004.
Seiwert, W.D., Jewellery from the Orient: Treasures from the Bir Collection, Arnoldsche Art Publishers, 2009.