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Cyprus’ Jewellery Legacy
Cyprus’ Jewellery Legacy
History and our days
1992
Evgeniya Kondakova-Theodorou
Author: Evgeniya Kondakova-Theodorou
Translation: Frances Ransome
05.04.2018

For centuries, Cypriot jewellers achieved impressive feats and became adept in the art of creating fine works thus enjoying great influence not only over the culture of their neighbouring countries but also over regions further afield.

Modern-day historians are increasingly convinced that the art of producing jewellery not only has a long-standing history on the island but, in fact, originated here.

It’s no wonder that Cypriot jewellery [1] with its skillful use of precious metals and stones is still held in such high regard to this day ...

At the end of this article, you will find our customary master class.

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It is commonly believed that the origins of jewellery-making lie in either Ancient Egypt or in Babylonia: the discovery of the city of Ur revealed numerous fine examples of jewellery dating back to about 2700 BC.

The same theory has it that jewellery-making was then supposed to have spread to other areas. It probably reached the Aegean civilization by 2400 BC and from there went on to span the entire world.

As for Cyprus, the craft of jewellery-making is believed to have proliferated at around 2300 BC due to immigrants from Anatolia and Mycenae, which is commonly considered the beginning of the Bronze Age on the island (2300-1000 BC). The early Bronze Age was characterised by a limited use of metals: the earliest items discovered were copper earrings. The first use of silver in earrings was seen about 100 years later and the first use of gold followed a further 100 years later.

Nevertheless, this doesn’t rule out the other theory put forward recently with some acclaim that jewellery, like many other arts and crafts, originated in Cyprus.

The early and mid-Bronze Age (2400-1600 BC) left us examples of the first pieces of jewellery made by man: archaeologists have discovered numerous necklaces and fragments of earrings made from sea shells and precious stones across many sites in Cyprus that date back to this period. Indeed, metal was not used at first but it is clear the desire and skills necessary to create jewellery from different materials was already present.

The mid-Bronze Age saw trade with Syria, Palestine and Egypt increase which in turn saw increased use of gold and silver along with the export of Cypriot copper.

The metal-working techniques Cypriot jewellers used (which include filigree, granulation, niello and enamelling) rapidly advanced and they demonstrated exceptional artistry, the sophistication of which still fascinates experts and historians. These unique finds (mostly rings, bracelets, gold bowls, gold earrings) can be found in the permanent collection at the Cyprus Museum, and in exhibitions at a number of major museums worldwide. Most of the pieces were found in Engomi [2] and near Salamina..

The late Bronze Age saw Cyprus really prosper with an influx of precious stones and metals.

The jewellery from the late Bronze Age (1650-1050 BC) that can be found in museum collections includes a wealth of gold and slightly less silver in the form of necklaces, rings, signet rings, clasps (brooches), earrings and bracelets with inlaid gem stones. There are also decorative gold panels worn on the waist that have been hammered using a stencil.

The skill of the ancient jewellers can be clearly seen from a set of discovered treasure

In 1998, in the southern outskirts of Larnaca, a necropolis was discovered that contained a particularly large amount of jewellery: 23 pieces of gold jewellery with inlaid semiprecious stones: 5 sets of earrings, all crescent-shaped with decoration in the form of boats or snakes forged from a single piece of cast gold; 3 rings made from solid gold with bezel seal inlaid with gem stones and faience. The technique used to make it is similar to that of the earrings mentioned above, — hammered from a solid ingot; 2 bracelets, the first is a woven bracelet made up of two parts with an inset of cabochon agate (a rather rare piece even compared to the other finds) and the second is a chain with a charm in the form of a scarab.

There was one other important find in this tomb — an unusual necklace made up of 17 beads of various shapes and sizes as well as a pendant. Its gold elements were made of gold alloy. Interestingly: the Egyptian influence can be clearly seen on some of the jewellery. Archaeologists are certain that some members of the Phoenician aristocracy, who also held a high position in the city of Kition, maybe even a family member of the ruler of the city, resided here. After all, the Phoenicians had ruled over the Kition dynasty since the archaic and classical period (the 8th-5th centuries BC).

The centuries that followed saw Cypriot jewellery undergo Greek and Roman influence.

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The Hellenistic period (325-50 BC) is often characterised by jewellery with elements made of gold leaf — for example, imitation olive leaves for a winner’s wreath. There are pendants and earrings, twisted bracelets with carnelian, quartz crystal, emeralds shaped into a cabochon (hemisphere), and jade.

The early Byzantine era (6-8th centuries) stands out for its silver: silver earrings with pendants, clasps and brooches, as well as dishes depicting scenes of a Christian engagement (probably intended as wedding gifts) as well as biblical stories.

Women's jewellery took on a new form; it now boasted amethysts, pearls on long pendants, crosses, etc.

The real heyday of Cypriot jewellery was in the 17-19th centuries when Nicosia became the heart of jewellery craftsmanship

Although there were blacksmiths in the villages that could make silver spoons, forks, and simple jewellery, the cities, in particular Nicosia, were clearly the place to go to find the best workshops. The capital boasted a street of gold workers near the main market where the most experienced and revered gold and silver craftsmen would hold master classes. Their end pieces were sold either right there in their workshops or at village fairs held across the island.

Methods such as repoussage (or punching), granulation and enamelling, and inlaying coloured stones appeared very early. They have been preserved and continue to be used to this day in contemporary silver and gold work. The earliest jewellery dating back to that period is mostly silver with insets, pendants made of semi-precious stones and enamels: solid clasps demonstrating magnificent embossing techniques; woven bracelets, earrings and necklaces using filigree and granulation techniques, that were worn by Cypriots on the most special of occasions.

This era was also characterised by a fashion for pendants in the form of a stylised cross with inlaid precious stones or imitation stones made from coloured glass. Soled fibulae (clasps) were also popular: silver, embossed, plated with gold and enamel. Various silver and gold items and pieces of jewellery are now in museum collections, and are the pride of Cyprus’ private and church collections.

Women's clothing for special occasions and weddings in Cyprus, especially the most elegant and rich example from the Karpass Peninsula, were tailored with luxurious silver lace and needlework applique made from the golden thread, add with the addition of jewels (mirmidi, crosses, and silver necklaces); and gold kertan or skallet.

The male outfit is accessorised with simple silver pieces: jewellery, a watch and chain, necklace chains and rings. Greek and Turkish officials wore signet rings with a bezel seal and ancient jewellery with inlaid stones.

In the past, gold jewellery was rare and was worn primarily by the wealthy usually in the form of bracelets, necklaces, rings, earrings, crosses and brooches. Others had to be content with jewellery made of low-quality gold or gold leaf. Men also wore jewellery such as silver rings inlaid with stones, or a watch and chain. Greek and Turkish officials had rings with seals engraved with their initials. In some cases, Turkish officials would have phrases from the Koran engraved.

When it comes to tableware, Cypriot tradition shares a great deal in common with Greek and Balkan traditions due to their common Byzantine heritage: silver trays, dishes and bowls are staple pieces in both urban and rural houses in Cyprus. What’s more, many of the church’s sacred vessels, and frames for icons and the Bible were also made of silver.

Silver tableware: jewellers often used a filigree technique known as trifari, a woven pattern created from thin gold or silver wire, to decorate cutlery. The same technique, which has a spiderweb-like effect, was also used to make earrings, pendants and brooches, and decorative cutlery and dishes.

These days, jewellers (mainly in Lefkara and nearby villages) also work with filigree, making traditional jewellery, accessories and festive dishes.

Modern-day Cypriot Jewellery

The jewellery industry is still very established. There are a host of workshops and showrooms that produce and display high-quality works and local jewellers are very skilled. It may be true that these days work with precious stones and metals is not in very high demand because of the economic crisis but many believe this will change. After all, Cyprus has a great heritage, talent, and many opportunities to further develop in this field. Therefore, despite the crisis, tourists from Europe, the USA, Russia and other countries still come to Cyprus to buy the local high-quality and beautiful jewellery on offer.

What is particularly popular among tourists? Jewellery featuring pomegranates and the so-called Cypriot idol (the Idol of Pomos).

There are two main dominant trends in Cypriot jewellery: traditional, authentic works that adhere to the old techniques and standards with their characteristic inlaid semi- and precious stones (often diamonds). For example, like that found in Nikos Ioannou’s collections, a well-known Cypriot jeweller that owns several boutiques.

Ioannou opened his jeweller’s studio in 1961. In years past, the Cyprus Jewellery Museum was on Onasagorou Street (in Nicosia’s Old Town). Later, the Cyprus Folk Art Museum invited Ioannou to display his collection there. The collection includes works by Cypriot jewellers from years gone by, as well as private jewellery and silverware collections donated to the Museum by several families of jewellers. Moreover, there are very good displays of both jewellery designed and created for the church as well as secular society, which developed equally successfully over the centuries.

The display cases contain church tributes (from the churchs of the Apostolos Andreas Monastery in Karpas, the part of Cyprus occupied by Turkey; they were transferred to the Museum in 1954). They were made by the people as a sign of gratitude for divine aid with their problems. The smallest room is set up as a gold and silver craftsman’s workshop where you can see jeweller’s equipment and tools as well as various gold test samples.

After graduating from St. Martins School of Art in 1995, his son opened a large workshop and 5 shops in different towns and cities across Cyprus. His hard work added several ancient pieces of jewellery to the collection from several donors, as well as the ancient jewellers’ equipment and tools. This went on to form the Cyprus Jewellers Museum in Lefkara.

Five years ago, I was lucky enough to visit his permanent exhibition in one of the so-called «Italian houses» near the mayor's office. Later, the Museum’s entire collection was transferred here, to Archbishop Kyprianos Square, from the old exhibition halls.

These days, the jewellery studio tries to create jewellery and accessories based on Cypriot cultural heritage using traditional designs and techniques with a modern twist...

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The second jewellery trend is contemporary, innovative and quintessentially international... it often features pieces the μοντέρνο (modern) style which is characterised by elements consistent with minimalist aesthetics or even industrial high-tech style.

Those who are familiar with the work of Alexander Tasou (London), a famous British designer of Greek-Cypriot origin, who once worked with Michael Jackson, will know what I’m talking about. His works can be seen here: www.alexanderhitek.com. For those who are interested, here’s a bit more information:

Alexander Tasou (London), is the designer and founder of a brand of ultra-moden clothing, jewellery and accessories for men and women called Hi Tek Designs. He embarked on the project back in the 80s and made his debut at London Fashion Week with a collection of telephone handbags that featured industrial design and elements of surrealism.

His equally surreal collection of watches also gained him recognition and success. These days, some of his works can be found in the collection at the Museum of Time in Ville de Besancon, France).

His work is well recognized in Cyprus, Europe, Russia and Japan and includes stylish, timeless and evocative designs for sunglasses, hats, belts, watches, bags and briefcases. The designer himself describes all of his works as neither in or out of fashion. Tasou’s great passion is Steampunk: combining the style of the past with modern elements and even futuristic designs.

In the past, Tasou’s projects have been linked with the film industry. His work has been used on science fiction film sets and a lot of his accessories and jewellery have been used to create a particular image for famous musicians and artists, or in photo shoots for top magazines.

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Cypriot jewellery also has a third trend: «antique», which encompasses neither traditional folk nor high-tech styles. Modern-day jewellers take inspiration for their designs from the numerous gold treasures from Ancient Greece and Rome that used filigree and the Martelé hammering technique.

Interestingly, the fascination with antiquity in Cyprus is not new: a visit to the Folk Art Museum in Lefkara will confirm this. Here, you’ll find beautiful works that appear deceptively modern at first glance but are, in fact, ancient. For example, silver jewellery in the form of spirals with a polished surface and niello designs that evoke the famous Greek meander [3]: a decorative pattern made up of a continuous line shaped into a repeated geometric motif.

For more information about Cypriot jewellers, please see: www.cyprusjewellery.com.

Our Master Class: a pendant, earrings, and a ring made from jewellery wire and semi-precious stones

So, Christmas, New Year or someone’s birthday is coming up and you haven’t got a gift yet... a familiar situation? Why not take advantage of the long winter holidays and try to learn a few new skills and make some hand-made jewellery? We'll show you how it’s done with minimal fuss so you can surprise your friends and relatives.

We’ll try making several pieces of jewellery according to one principle: weaving silver and copper wire. The end product should be festive so it’s a good idea add an attractive bead or stone as decoration.

When choosing which stone to add to your design, focus on expressive and bright colours. Of the opaque stones, try: lapis lazuli, jasper, turquoise or malachite; of the semi- and transparent: quartz crystal, the rich tones of amethyst, carnelian or moss agate. No matter how simple it looks, making jewellery by hand is hard, rather painstaking work that requires patience, experience and talent ... but, why not try your hand at this craft and devote at least a few free hours to it? All the necessary materials are easy to find in craft shops as well as art supply shops, and beadwork shops usually sell semi-precious stones and finished pieces made of them. Good luck!

Earrings: We’ll start off by making one of the simplest but most striking pieces of jewellery.

Regardless of the task in hand, be it pendants, rings, earrings, or charm bracelets, silver workers will need:

jewellery wire (20-18 caliber (0.8-1 mm), a (semi-precious stone) bead, earwires (ready-made earring wires), wire cutters, flat and round-nosed pliers.

  • cut a 20-25 cm length of wire;         
  • thread the bead onto the wire to about the halfway point;
  • bend the wire around the bead from both sides meeting in the middle;
  • twist the wire at the top of the bead;
  • take the round-nosed pliers and make a loop at one end of the wire. Twist the wire around the loop and continue to fully wind the wire in a spiral;
  • do the same with the other end of the wire. Note: twist the spiral in the opposite direction to the first spiral;
  • insert the earwire by opening its loop and fixing the bead pendant in position onto one of the spirals. Squeeze it back to a closed position.

Another, even simpler version of these earrings can be made by wrapping the bead in a spiral made up of almost the entire length of the wire, making a hook at the end, attaching the earwire, and squeezing it into a closed position.

Please note: our earring designs produce pieces in a fashionable ethnic style.

Rings: You can twist in one and more stones in any combination of your choice.

Take 20-18 caliber wire, (one or more) decorative stones, both flat and round stones work well but they must have a hole. If you like, you can use metal beads.

  • measure out 25 cm of wire and cut two lengths;
  • thread a stone onto one of the pieces of wire (to approximately the halfway point). Wrap both pieces of wire once around a round ring mold (in order to determine the size and ensure a beautiful, smooth ring shape);
  • slightly straighten out the wires that meet at the base of the stone. You can thread several metal beads onto the end nearest the outer edge of the stone: choose the number depending on the diameter of the stone;
  • tightly wrap the loose ends around the base of the ring (the beads will surround the top of the stone): first shape the wires with your fingers, then use the pliers to bend and press the ends together;
  • do the same with the remaining ends on the other side of the ring: add the beads (they will surround the stone from below), twist and bend into place;
  • the end result is a ring with a very modern, lightweight design.

Incidentally, it’s easy to change the size of this design: you can either slightly squeeze the sides with your fingers thus making it smaller; or stretch it on a mold and slightly increasing it in size.

The skillful «jewellers of the Copper Island» prefer to make jewellery by hand, working with copper wire: this way you can freely twist in the stone, creating both exquisitely delicate weaves and a host of other beautiful results ... Everything is technically quite simple.

To make a pendant you will need: copper wire (various thicknesses are use but, in this case, it’s best to use 24 calibers — 0.51 mm), cutters, flat and round-nosed pliers, scotch tape, thick fabric, a ready-made patination solution (this can be found in some cheap, household therapeutic sulphuric ointments), and a beautiful stone of your choice.

  • wrap the wire around the stone to measure the circumference;
  • you now have a loop. Add approximately the same length again to be used in the next twist;
  • cut 4-6 pieces of wire of this length
  • line them up and hold them together leaving 2 lengths set aside, and fix with tape at both ends;
  • take one of the spare pieces of wire and twist its tip into a hook with pliers;
  • find the middle of the twisted wire and insert it into the hook, and squeeze closed, then wrap the remaining pieces of wire (3-4 times): wrap and squeeze, cut the excess and pinch the end;
  • as a result, the central «knot» will be at the bottom of the stone: continue to wrap it up (3-4 times) starting from the centre and doing outwards, then pinch it, and cut the excess, repeat several times;
  • the resulting form with 3-5 ties should then be placed around the stone and pinched. Tip: the polished semi-precious stones are very slippery so make the task easier by simply gluing it along the edge with scotch tape;
  • the resulting loop from the twisted wire can be fixed by twisting the wire a couple of times, then gently but firmly clamping it with flat-noised pliers (leave the rest of the wire uncut — it will be needed for the clasp);
  • unstick the ends of the twisted wire bundle from the scotch tape and then patinate the copper using sulfuric paste (sold in pharmacies) or special solution on denim material;
  • after about 10 minutes, rinse the rest of the patinating paste and dry it off. Remember: after undergoing the patination or niello process, the finished product can be polished (mechanically or with a cream polish) to highlight the convex parts of the piece lending it an even more artistic feel;
  • Now the two ends should be twisted into an loop with round-nosed pliers and the rest of the wire should be wrapped around the base;
  • Nowwe can proceed to the weaving stage: remove the scotch tape from the stone and wipe it with a cloth. Insert it into the large loop of the patinated twisted bundle bending one wire along one side of the base of the bundle — either by hand or with pliers: you should end up with a wave-like shape. The larger they are, the stronger the stone is held in the weave;
  • you can additionally twist a pattern out of each wave using flat-nosed pliers: that way the pendant will have an art nouveau feel (no matter what you do, the pendant will look great)
  • using the round-nosed pilers, bend one of the wires that is part of the «tail», then twist it into a spiral with pliers: if the remaining ends of the wire are not very long, your spirals will only adorn the top of the final product; you can play with longer wires, and spread them out around the entire pendant;
  • Polish the final piece, highlighting the convex parts of the twisted weave [4]. If you so wish, it’s possible to make the pattern more complicated and refined by tying the wire around and pinching the resulting spirals and squiggles, tightly fixing them along the main twisted weave — this is a technique you’ve already mastered!

[1] You can learn more about the history of jewellery in Cyprus at Folk Art Museum in Nicosia — it has a hall with displays pieces from Nikos Ioannou’s Museum.

[2] The collaboration between French archaeologist Claude Schaeffer and Cypriot Dr. P. Dickeyos revealed that the highly-populated ancient city that existed between 1340 and 1200 was surrounded by a fortress wall built using cyclopean masonry techniques involving massive stone blocks. Inside, it contained housing, temples and workshops where copper ore was processed and numerous bronze items were produced.

[3] There is an interesting myth about the meander (as, indeed, there are with many ancient Greek phenomena). This one is about Peleus and Thetis.

Once upon a time, King Peleus saw a nereid dancing in the moonlight, who, fortune would have it, was to become the wife of a mortal so that the child who was born to her would not be like Zeus ... Despite being the object of the King’s affection, the stubborn goddess did not quickly succumb. When he embraced her, she assumed the form of different animals and even natural elements. The king resisted and would not let her out of his arms. They were soon married and later bore a child: Achilles.

Since then, the meander has come symbolise the idea that «the impossible is possible», it also symbolises eternity and the constant movement of the Universe. The spiral is an element of this and many other repeated geometric patterns we often see in Greek art, and a symbol of Genesis in Greek tradition.

[4] When using polish (for example, Maas Polishing Creme), remember that the principle used is the same as with patination: apply the polish to the metal with a dry clean cloth, wipe it off, and wash it off. For a more delicate polish, use polishing pads (sold ready-made): wipe the jewellery over with them and wash it with water.

 

See you!

1992
Fun Culture