Traditional jewelry in Saudi Arabia generally refers to the silver pieces worn by Bedouin women for centuries. Representing more than personal decoration, in the old days jewelry symbolized social and economic status. It generally made up a large part of a woman’s dowry at her wedding. Due to the inherently migrant lifestyle of the Bedouin, jewelry was also considered an easily transportable form of wealth and security for its owner.
Crafting these pieces was a work of art with the jeweler generally working from memory to produce items that were unique. Although gold was also used, the primary medium was traditionally silver. Jewelers used turquoise, red garnets and amber from the rich mines in the interior of the Kingdom, and pearls and coral from the coastal areas of the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf, to produce necklaces, bracelets, anklets, amulets, belts and other pieces. Tiny bells, coins and chains were also used to decorate the pieces.
The designs were primarily “arabesque”, that is evolved from Islamic calligraphy and motifs. Interlaced patterns of geometric shapes, leaves, crescents and flowers provide many of the beautiful designs on the elaborate pieces.
Townspeople had a greater variety of designs. In addition to Bedouin jewelry, they also had their own designs, which were influenced by foreign styles.
Today, Saudi women still receive gifts of jewelry from their husbands when they marry or have children. Whereas their ancestors received large amounts of bracelets, rings, earrings and necklaces as part of their dowry, Saudi women now usually receive a more modern collection, which would include diamonds and a variety of precious metals, in both traditional and contemporary designs.