Morocco has an ancient tradition of jewelry craftsmanship which continues today. Morocco’s Jewish population grew over many centuries and they were the artisans who created the jewelry as the muslims for religious reasons would not work with silver and gold. The jews and the berbers intermarried and there were a number of jewish berber tribes.
Berber jewelry reflects tribal traditions and the berber woman’s jewelry was and still is and important part of her dowry. Photographs of Atlas tribes show them with large amber and necklaces and headbands of silver coins and hinged silver bracelets with intricate and symbolic designs. Necklaces also have semi precious stones and talismans. A common symbol to ward off the evil eye is the hand of Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet Mohammed. The splendour of this heritage is still alive today and it is one of the richest expressions of Morocco’s culture and style.
Two traditions of jewelry craftsmanship grew up in Morocco in the towns where the jewelry is often gold inlaid with precious stones and in the South and the sahara. Berber and Tuareg jewelry traditions intermingled and the Almoravid dynasty came from the sahara.
The southern jewelry is of silver and bronze and women often wear ornaments of silver or bronze with geometric or floral shapes. Women wear fibula jewelry on a dress, on their chest and as hair ornaments. The fibula is a triangle often silver, engraved and decorated with colored stones, used to fix the hanging of the “Selham” or burnouse ( a cloak).
In the south Atlas, the “Nbala”, hinged bracelet, is commonly made with beautiful and colorful patterns. In Tiznit, Tafraoute and Inezgane, jewelers sell in the bazaars old and unique pieces considered rare pieces of art. Taroudant is also well worth a visit.
The walled town of Tiznit is an important centre for jewelry and has an annual jewelry festival. It was founded in 1881 by Sultan Hassan I. It is located between the Atlantic coast and the Atlas mountains. It is the most famous place for silver-smith’s in Morocco and is also famous for ornate daggers and swords. There is a souk every Thursday and a thriving jewelry market. It is a good idea to visit the Ensemble Artisanal in Tiznit before launching into the souk and beginning to bargain. It gives you an idea of what is available, the different styles and importantly, the prices. The Ensemble Artisanal is a cooperative with fixed prices. The Ensemble des Artisnal on Avenue Mohammed V in Marrakech is also a good place to call into if you are planning to travel south and explore local markets and souks.
You need to be aware that some silver jewelry may be “Berber silver”, an alloy of silver, nickel and lead.