As Yemen began to prosper thanks to the huge increase in coffee trade, merchants began to look for new ways to protect and store their wealth. They turned to the famous jewelers and silvermiths of Yemen to create breathtaking and valuable silver necklaces that often cost as much as one year’ salary.
One such design is the known as the Labbeh. The labbeh design was so popular that similar versions can be found in other parts of the Middle East as well as North and East Africa. It is without doubt, however, the labbeh originating from Yemen are the most beautiful.
A labbeh is made up of many interlinked elements and is adorned with appliqués, granulation, small pendants and precious stones. The aesthetics are enhanced further through the famous arab geomteric symmetry whereby vertical lines, diagonals, stones, and circular links to confuse and please the eye. Many Labbeh have geometrical forms such as rhombuses, triangles, cones, ellipses, and circles. In addition, other Labbeh incorporate the use of bird motifs, stars, and hearts.
A visit to Yemen reveals the love of gardening and the care of orchards and this has also influenced the design of many Labbehs. Inspecting these necklaces will reveal beautiful use of small motifs from agriculture including trees, flowers, leaves and twisted branches. Other silversmiths decorated labbeh with barley, wheat and other natural motifs; these symbols were metaphors to represent the fertility of the wearer and the wealth of the wearer’s family.
Labbeh can be worn in many ways depending upon how big the piece is. Sometimes they are drapped around the waist or used to decorate the chest, occasionally they were wrapped round the forehead.