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Niello – Ancient Jewelry Traditions

Sunday, 21 November 2010

NielloWhen passing by the windows of the jewelry shop, we stop to stare at those silver items with the ornament, whether intentionally or not. The frozen ornaments are encircled with the black paint in thinnest line against the silver glass. The lock of niello is fancifully twisted to admire. The Niello technique, nowadays almost forgotten, is one of the oldest ornamenting techniques in the world. The jewelry from niello perfectly shade a gentle woman skin and those made for men emphasize the status and individual style of wearer. The silver is created with the tint of aristocratism, lavishly and worthy to come to collections of family jewels. Niello is a black metallic alloy of copper, silver, sulfur, and lead, used as an inlay on engraved metal. It can be used for filling in designs cut from metal.

Some historical facts of niello

The word niello comes from the Latin nigellum meaning «black». The technique of blackening was widely practiced by many craftsmen who lived in the V century B.C. when decorating silver items. This is proved by plenty of archeological findings as niello. However, this kind of engraving was popular in Russia in X century. During the 10th to 13th century A.D. the Russian craftsmen mastered the skill in jewelry. They used hot working of iron, wax and stone molds, inlay with niello and cloisonné enamel and their works had no equal in the world market.

Niello was used on a variety of object including and most prolifically, jewelry for women like necklaces, bracelets, rings, torques, pendants, buttons, belt buckles, headdresses, and many others.

The masters of other cities shared the technique of nielloing achieving perfection in this sphere. The Renaissance epoch enabled distribution of this decoration beyond Russia. Special attention was drawn to silver snuffboxes, trays, glasses, sword hilts, chalices, plates, horns, adornment for horses, boxes and trunks for keepsakes. The traditional technique of nielloing is still alive thanks to the craftsman M.Koshkin and his apprentice M. Chirkov. The peculiarity of that technique was the unique technology of preparation and alloying of metals and precious metals to bring additional strength and rich color to the jewelry. Craftsmen mainly used plant motifs as well as images of mythological animals and birds to engrae over the ready stuff.

Fame throughout the world

The jewelry from niello are of high popularity today. The nielloed items are acquired for exposition in museums, they are put to auctions at famous bidding houses. Thus, a nielloed tureen from 1795 was put to auction at Sotheby’s as the «silver hidden by immigrants» branded by the craftsman Semen Kuzov. The preliminary estimate was thirty thousand USD, though the new owner acquired it for 338,5 thousand dollars. 

When choosing the silver table set for family collections, consider the Russian companies as «Kubachi» and «Severnaya chern». Though the European Jewelry houses do not yield and as for the price range, they outrun the Russian craftsmen for a range. So, the French silver by the brand «Christofle» for twelve persons costs approximately 18-24 thousand dollars. If you compare, the similar set of 157 items for twelve persons by the brand «Severnaya chern» is less than 18 thousand dollars.

The fashion for nielloed items is again in. the jewelry perfectly matches with the everyday wear and are ideal as complement to evening ensembles. Previously silver jewelry was the privilege of the youth due to the price. Though, today many celebrities and wealthy people show their concern in nielloed items. The silver accessories with niello are extremely trendy though rare people can afford the silver necklace or a bracelet.

Nielloed silver is trendy till now and the nobility of the metal and skill of craftsmen will involve everyone in the admiration with the items. And everyone will fin its niello to purchaseand enjoy.

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