Private collections are incredibly important. They add to our understanding of jewellery as heritage in all aspects imaginable, but are often hidden away in drawers and boxes, waiting to be pulled out and shared. Seeing a private collection is always an honour, and the book Eastern Treasures presents us with such an opportunity. It shares the collection of jewellery designer Oytun Evliyazade Camcigil, and is an absolute visual feast!
The collection has been put together by Oytun over three decades, and consists of pieces from the Ottoman world, Oman, Yemen and Turkmenistan. Eastern Treasures is a large volume of well over 300 full-colour pages filled with many marvelous pieces. As a jewellery designer, these pieces have inspired her in her own creations and the purpose of the book is to share photographs of the collection and her knowledge of these original jewellery pieces (p. XII).
The book starts with a preface and introduction that both serve to introduce Oytun’s love for jewellery and her appreciation of how jewellery functioned as more than just adornment. After that, the first chapter explores the use of jewellery as amulet and talisman in a selection of materials and forms. The main body of the book is formed by the four chapters on Ottoman, Omani, Yemeni and Turkmen jewellery, of which the Omani chapter is the largest. Each chapter is introduced with a brief description of the area presented (with maps! I love maps, they make it so much easier to visualize where we should picture the jewellery coming from), and then a wide variety of jewellery is shown in large photographs. After these four chapters follows a section on Oytun’s own creations, and the final chapter is on jewellery making techniques.
The Ottoman section contains examples of a variety of jewellery. Here, we see how jewellery is not limited to individual countries, such as in a niello bracelet from Diyarbakir that was also worn and produced in Deir ez-Zor, Syria, some 300 kilometers further (p. 59).
The focus of attention in the book is definitely the chapter on Omani jewellery, which is by far the largest: with 113 pages, it takes up about one third of the entire book. Here, we see the length and width of Omani silversmithing in a wide array of techniques, forms and decorations. You will not simply see a single sample piece, but a multitude of similar pieces within a type which, upon closer inspection, all are unique. As Oytun writes for example in the caption of a collection of bracelets: ‘Although similar in appearance, each has a different motif and is therefore unique’ (p. 110). In this chapter most of the pieces shown are also listed with their vernacular name. Zooming in further, close up photos show details such as the opening and closing of an amulet container (p. 136) or the opening mechanism of anklets (p. 118). The collection itself is of excellent quality, with several rare items such as a piece of hair decoration (p. 188) or amulet bottle stoppers (p. 159). Very rare and informative is the detail of an original Maria Theresia Thaler, struck in 1763 (p. 154-155).
Yemeni and Turkmen jewellery
I enjoyed reading the section on Yemeni jewellery in tandem with Marjorie Ransom’s book Silver Treasures from the Land of Sheba: Oytun’s pieces add to those depicted in Marjorie’s book and going through both of them was a real pleasure as they amplify one another. The section on Turkmen jewellery at the end is brief, but contains a beautiful example of a child’s dress that is showed front and back on two individual pages, which provides the opportunity to admire it in detail.
Having read all these chapters, the next section on Oytun’s own creations is wonderfully put into context. The love she has for the style and aesthetic of traditional jewellery is clearly visible in her designs, and as she writes herself, using old components in new designs extends their lifespan (p. 263). The way Eastern Treasures is written from the point of view of a designer inspired by these heritage pieces, is yet another angle from which to appreciate and value the long life of jewellery and to have a perspective on that longevity. When the author writes ‘For us to be able to enjoy our future, we need to treasure and value our past’, I could not agree more.
Layout and photography
This is very much a photographic book, with most of the available space devoted to photography.* Jewellery pieces have been carefully arranged against backdrops such as old doors, wooden print blocks, pieces of coral and shell, a variety of fabrics and even rice and lentils (which work really well), but in the Omani section also worn on models, which really brings them to life. The large format of the book and the generous size of the photographs make for hours of gazing and enjoying the many stunning pieces. Each caption contains a description of the jewellery piece presented and points out particular details. Often additional information is added as briefly well, such as who would wear the piece or what its significance was. The text and captions are not referenced, so there is no telling whether the information shared is based on literature research or from Oytun’s many conversations with women and jewellery dealers (p. XVI) or both, but there is a helpful overview for further reading at the end of the book. An index at the end makes for easy searching within the volume.
An important resource for Omani jewellery
The power of this book is in its careful selection of jewellery pieces from a clearly defined geographical area, and notably in its splendid collection of Omani jewellery. With many books on Omani jewellery out of print or difficult to obtain, Eastern Treasures provides an important visual reference collection for Omani jewellery. It’s safe to say you will not find a comparable collection of Omani jewellery in another book that is currently available. Eastern Treasures is an absolutely beautiful photographic book that will add to your understanding of the variety within silver jewellery, and above all, will bring you much joy!
Eastern Treasures. Ottoman Oman Yemen Turkmen Jewellery (2017). By Oytun Evliyazade Camcigil.
316 pp, full colour, in English.
The book was purchased from Oytun directly.
*Three images have their colour balance off and appear more yellow, however, these do not make the book any less spectacular