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Combing Morocco for jewels

These are images from one of my recent buying trips in Morocco. I sometimes go to Marrakesh to seek out rare and interesting items but in recent times finding good pieces has become more difficult. Whereas ten years ago or even more recently Berber jewels were in abundance, they are now proving much more difficult to find and prices have risen accordingly.

I decided to travel further afield over the High Atlas pass to Ouarzazate, a city south of Morocco’s Atlas mountains. It is known as a gateway to the Sahara Desert. In the past, Ouarzazate was a crossroad for African traders seeking to reach northern cities in Morocco and Europe. During the French period, Ouarzazate expanded considerably as a garrison town and administrative centre. It is the largest town in the Moroccan Sahara.

On the way from Marrakech, over high mountain passes, one glimpses very rural Berber villages, where I guessed grandmothers still own jewels. Simple yet beautiful, traditional items such as necklaces and bracelets and perhaps they traded them to local dealers. I hoped that I could find items in Ouarzazate that could be more difficult to find in Marrakesh.

The town itself is rather drab but it used to be a trading stop on the old trans Saharan caravan route. This route is the heart of much of my jewellery as there are influences from all over Africa and Europe that cross fertilise much of the tradtions of adornment in the regions.

Now the town is mainly used as a base for tours with day trips and overnight excursions to oasis valleys and the Sahara sand dunes.

But there is one row of shops in the town, one of which particularly still holds many treasures and in some of the other nearby shops one can find, buried in hidden boxes, items of great interest.

I found four little necklaces, simple Berber pieces, made by grandmothers in local villages. Made with old coins and beads handed down through generations and strung in traditional and homey ways. To me these are great treasures, they speak of a way of life, of people and of traditions that have virtually disappeared.

I also found bracelets and earrings as well as a wonderful headpiece, photographs from the 1930s show how these were worn by tribal women.

I love their shapes and their simple artistry and I love the mystery of the rural and tribal societies from which they have sprung.

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