Most arabic necklaces are designed with a special object known by Arabs as a ‘Hirz’ and by Jews as a ‘Ktab’. The role the Hirz plays in the design of the jewelry is to be a lucky charm that holds religious quotations and prayers. It is thought that this would keep the wearer safe and offer spiritual protection. Hirzes are usually cylindrical in shape but you can also find them in rectangular form. The most common feature of a Hirz is the central gemstone, often a Yemeni agate.
It is more common to find Hirzes that do not contain scripture as the hirz is often sealed closed so it cannot be checked. This process happens after the prayer scripture has been removed.
The design of Yemeni hirzes is often attributed to the Jewish family of ‘Bawsani’, their trademark being the filigree work frequently found on all contemporary and antique Yemeni jewelry. Filigree is also a frequent design style found on Hirzes. However there is also a Yemeni necklace design that does not feature either a Hirz or filigree work. This is known as a ‘Labbeh’.
Labbeh work is considered to be some of the finest – and oldest – work produced by the famous Mansouri designers in Yemen. They were different in that they worked with Gold gilt, however most pieces now have the gold faded over time. The Mansouri style is also unique in that it is reversible so the pendant design is repeated on the front as well as the back of the necklace. The style remains popular in Yemen today and old pieces are often recycled into more modern designs.
Yemeni jewelry is unique in that there was a common standard followed in design. This design cannot be found anywhere else and hence it provides significant rarity value to the wearer. Moreover, each designer would often try to add his unique touch to each necklace through incorporating coral or silver beads into the design. This signature would be passed on to generations within the designer’s family and can be found today in parts of Yemen where jewelry is produced.