Striking Yemeni necklace with contrasting round beads in silver and honey amber colors.
Silversmiths throughout the South Arabian nation of Yemen have a diverse set of styles from region to region, and village to village. Generally, the silversmiths of the north are Jewish and make jewelry that reflects centuries of Hebrew influence. Northern silversmiths are known for intricate filigree and granulation on their rings, beads, and pendants.
The south of Yemen, having been a British colony throughout most of the 20th century, exhibits a more diverse set of influences than the north, including an affinity for Indian and Persian styles. Southern Yemeni silver often uses palm tree and barley motifs, representative of the fauna of the region.
Functionality and geometry are both very important parts of Yemeni jewelry making. Many pendants function as amulets to hold prayers or scriptures printed or written on paper scrolls. Snakes, triangles, and fish often adorn beads and jewelry; all of these motifs represent fertility. Crescent and sun shapes are also common as both play an important role in the religions of the area. Artisans also often use coins in making jewelry, which represents the prosperity of the wearer. Chains are often linked in a loop-in-loop fashion and are therefore quite noisy; it’s said these noisy jewelry pieces help in warding off evil spirits.
The "silver" in Yemeni beads is a composite of melted silver and other metals. Silver content is measured against the Maria Theresa Thaler, a silver coin minted during the reign of Maria Theresa, Archduchess of Austria and Queen of Hungary and Bohemia in the 18th century. This coin, at 75-85% silver, is considered the highest standard for silver content. The silver high for Yemeni beads is typically 45-50%, and most beads are much lower. The amber-colored beads are not true amber. Beads sold as "amber" by traders include beads made of amber, copal, resins and plastics. Superb ethnic jewelry, including pieces from China, Tibet, Ethiopia, Somalia and Mali, among others, are made from these "amberoids." I don't know the chemical makeup if these beads, and do not want to be misleading...so will say they are "described as amber."
Above information adapted from Marjorie Ransom. For more information on Yemeni jewelry, please see Silver Speaks by Joyce Diamanti with Robert Liu, published in 2002.