By Fayez Barakay
At some point before the dawn of recorded history,
man learned to shape beads from the wonders of the natural world. Beads
were carved in a variety of colors from the fiery orange of carnelian
and the midnight blue of lapis shot through with golden stars to the soothing
twilight purple of amethyst. They were crafted from ivory, shell, and
bone, blown from glass and rolled from clay. The wealthy and the poor
alike wore strands of beads in life, and frequently these were buried
with their owners as favorite treasures for the journey through eternity.
The Barakat Collection embraces piles of Egyptian Faience
beads that were painstakingly culled, one by one, from the sands of an
ancient necropolis; amber that had passed down the northern trading routes
to the markets of Crete; vermillion coral from the Persian gulf and perfect
beads of Phoenician glass which time has painted with the iridescence
of a peacocks tail. Each bead is equally fascinating, and each tells
Necklaces and many other pieces appear in the Barakat
Collection exactly as they were worn many centuries ago. The pieces blend
carnelian from the age of Solomon with jasper from the time of Cleopatra.
What is most special about these beads is that they link us directly with
the lives of their ancient owners. They grace the neck of a modern beauty
with the same radiant sparkle as when they adorned a Bythibian dancer
in the age of Alexander the great. Pieces in the collection blend authentic
echoes of the past with such as coins, seals and amulets with the finest
available precious metals and gems. Jewelry has been fashioned that is
at once classic in scope and contemporary in design. Every piece is as
unique as the man or woman who wears it.
Jewelry is said to be one of lifes luxuries, but
it is virtually impossible to imagine the world without it. The adoration
of ornament is as old as civilization itself. Once mankind obtained the
basic necessities of life, he began to adorn himself with rare, unusual
and beautiful objects. This delightful mode of self-expression has continued
without interruption to the present day. Tastes have varied and styles
have changed, but never in history has any civilization, great or small,
Paintings and carved reliefs from Egypt and Persia portray
kings, nobles and ordinary citizens alike wearing collars, bracelets and
rings to set themselves apart from the crowd. The jewels of the boy Pharoah
Tutankhamen are legendary; as dazzling today as they were more than three
millennia ago. Cleopatra (who is said to have preferred emeralds) sought
to impress her lover, Marc Anthony, by dissolving a priceless pearl in
wine. In the buried city of Pompeii, excavated ornaments of gold, silver,
gems, and pearls attest to the classical worlds fascination with
precious jewelry. Sitters in the portraits of the Renaissance and Europes
golden age displayed their wealth and dignity with jewelry. The terracotta
tomb figures from pre-Columbian America and ancient China likewise indicate
the former eminence of the deceased.
Primitive man, perhaps to imitate the mating dance of
nature, decorated himself with flowers, feathers and brightly colored
stones. Hunters wore the teeth and claws of wild beasts, which they had
conquered to display their bravery and establish status within the community.
Eventually, as civilizations grew more settled and less nomadic, jewelers
became prominent artisans of the towns and villages. People discovered
very early that by adorning their necks, ears, and hands they could make
themselves feel good by satisfying a deep human desire to distinguish
oneself as an individual. By wearing jewelry, people feel somehow enriched,
more self-confident and more attractive. These are internal emotions to
be sure, qualities we must find within ourselves, but jewelry helps draw
them out and bring them radiantly to the surface.
Jewelry has always represented wealth in its most condensed
and visible form. The story, however apocryphal, that the Dutch originally
acquired the island of Manhattan for a handful of beads is hardly surprising.
Far greater empires have been won and lost for the sake of brilliant jewels.
Jewelry is a portable means of proving wealth and power. One cannot wear
an island to dazzle an audience.
Some jewelry from the ancient world survives intact,
needing only a slight dusting off to make it as eye-catching as it was
when worn centuries ago. The spiritual energy that radiates from such
pieces can be quite awesome. People have become emotionally overwhelmed
as they slipped on an ancient ring, sensing that they had worn it in a
past life. Though such mysteries cannot be fully understood, the bond
that exists between the spirit and objects of beauty cannot be denied.
Magical properties have long been ascribed to stones.
Many ancient cultures revered jewelry for its talismanic power to ward
off evil, bring good health, prosperity, and to insure success in battle.
Some Barakat creations incorporate such amulets as Egyptian carvings believed
to ward off scorpion bites, Mayan jade designed to appease the jaguar
god, Cufic invocations from the Koran carved on ruby, and Assyrian hematite
beads which were said to inspire courage. These pieces are offered without
guarantee of their current usefulness or potency, but many that wear amuletic
jewelry swear that the balance of their lives has been restored. If they
believe so, then is it not true? For it is believed that such luck depends
on the attitude of the wearer. There is a renewed interest today in the
healing properties of stones and their effects on the human body and spirit.
Extensive research has been undertaken into the origins and history of
these ancient beliefs and some pieces in the collection have been designed
with as much attention to their curative potential as to their visible
Engraved gems and seals from the Classical and Byzantine
eras provide splendid centerpieces for contemporary jewelry. Many of the
original metal settings have long since been melted down for some other
purpose, however some seals in the collection remain in their original
gold settings. New settings have been fashioned which evoke the classical
style, but are meant for modern hands.
The gems display a great variety of characters and insignias.
Athena, goddess of wisdom and war, appears fully armed on one red carnelian.
A triumphant eagle is carved in white over black on beaded sardonyx. An
amethyst boasts the exquisite features of an empress. In the past, these
pieces might have been insignia of office, marks of religious affiliation,
protective talismans, or a token of love. Time has only enhanced their
beauty. Their history is left to the imagination.
Egyptian scarabs were used for centuries as personal
signatures and amulets of good fortune, and they continue to exert a powerful
spell on modern tastes. Carved with the image of the scarab beetle on
one side and a variety of hieroglyphic symbols on the other, these amulets,
set in pendants, bracelets, and rings draw us into the realm of the ancient
Egyptians. Scarabs were talismans of continuous rejuvenation, and according
to Egyptian belief, the sun was pushed across the sky by the sacred beetle.
More than any other object, these benevolent talismans epitomize the spirit
of Egypt. When a body was mummified, a scarab replaced the heart in the
belief that it would provide life in death.
Scarabs were carved in ancient Egypt for over three thousand
years in every variety of stone and precious metal known to the ancients.
The practice has been renewed today for the tourist market, however the
magic seems to be missing. Those ancient pieces intended as jewelry tend
to be life size replicas of the desert beetle and are found in gold, lapis,
amethyst, glass, or clay, depending on the status and wealth of the original
owners. The most common form of scarab was of white steatite sometimes
glazed with faience. Modest, yet elegant in appearance, scarabs glow with
the immediacy of past experience and an energy as timeless as the Egyptian
The practice of setting coins in jewelry was common in
antiquity, and to wear a coin portrait of a reigning ruler was considered
a sign of political allegiance. The barbarian tribesman who brought about
the fall of the Roman Empire fashioned fantastic jewels from the coins
of the vanished classical age. Each coin was hand struck, and no two are
exactly alike. They have been patinated by time and have survived by accident
or luck. These coins are the artifacts, which speak most eloquently of
history on both a grand and intimate scale. Unlike many treasures from
the distant past, coins can usually be dated to specific periods. We see
reflected on their surfaces the optimism of young kings, the ambition
of usurpers, the dreams of an empire and the never ending human wish to
live free from all oppression.
Silver coins set in cufflinks may once have been the
pay for an officer who fought beside Alexander the Great at the battle
of Issus. The denarius found in Judea and engraved with the portrait of
Tiberius might be the very coin which Jesus held in his hand when he proclaimed,
"Render unto Caesar that which is Caesars, and unto God what is
Gods." The bronze coin struck by Shimon Bar Kohba during his revolt
against Rome still provokes emotion as an enduring testament to faith
and the survival of the spirit. We know when we touch an ancient coin
it has passed through long-vanished hands. It has been through the lives
of people who laughed and sang, pondered, argued, and loved. Those who
strived for necessities and luxuries just as people do today. These treasures
link us to the unbroken chain of history and remind us that mankind has
survived through the rise and fall of empires, the comings and goings
of wise men, tyrants, great battles, small triumphs, and the unstoppable
passage of time. They excite us in a renewed hope for the future.
Of paramount importance from an archaeological perspective
is that the integrity of the artifacts be preserved. All settings in the
collection have been custom designed to prevent damage and alteration
to the ancient pieces. Surrounded by a glittering frame of gold and rubies,
an Athenian coin will be altered only by the hand of centuries past, but
not the jeweler. The same materials which were favored in ancient times
have been selected to enhance a particular artifact. For instance, a coin
portraying the Emperor Hadrian may be set in gold and strung in a necklace
with lapis lazuli beads. Though the lapis is recently carved, the style
is identical to the work of a craftsman of the Imperial court at the height
of Romes grandeur.
To this end, the far corners of the world have been reached
in search of exquisite gems and semiprecious stones. In many cases, pieces
were obtained from the sources of the ancients. Gold has, since ancient
times, been the standard of beauty. It compliments even the simplest artifacts,
and alone or with other materials, 18-karat gold is included in most Barakat
Diamonds are the exception to the rule of authenticity.
It is only recently that man has learned the art and science of faceting
to draw out the diamonds brilliant fire. Diamonds lend breathtaking
radiance to jewelry and they are represented throughout the Barakat Collection,
although in ancient times they were rarely used. If faceted diamonds had
been known to Cleopatra, perhaps she would have used them, rather than
emeralds or pearls to dazzle her lovers.