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Qırğız Jewelry

A description of Qırğız (Kyrgyz) jewelry.

A Turkic jewelry craftsman or smith is traditionally referred to as a master in the English language. And in the modern Qırğız language, they are known either as a kümüşçü “silversmith” or zerger usta “jewelry smith” (Qаdırov, 2022). Of course, both terms may ultimately be post-Islamic. Silver, the choice metal for modern Turkic jewelry, once competed with gold as the standard of elite jewelry. Moreover, it is not clear if the ancient Turks distinguished between a temirçi “iron-smith” and a jewelry master. The former may have encompassed the later. Nonetheless, kümüşçü is etymologically Turkic. So, at the very least, it would follow if the native term predated the etymologically Persian zerger usta.

In the post-Islamic world, the position of a master was typically passed on from father to son. A female master would have seemingly been inconceivable as it was once considered taboo for a woman to enter a forge or interact with a master’s tools (Qаdırov, 2022). This is in contrast to ancient Turkic traditions that were not necessarily patriarchal. Still, not every aspect of the post-Islamic jewelry master ran in opposition to pre-Islamic tradition. Notably, the master, in many ways, inherited many Shamanistic elements from the ancient Turkic qam or “shaman.” The master, through the process of smithing, would embed qut, a term roughly corresponding to “divine favor” or “spirit,” into his creation. This would grant the object supernatural powers capable of warding off malevolent spirits while attracting benevolent ones. It was believed that the object was capable of altering one’s destiny, a power that derived from the forge’s flames. According to some beliefs, deities inhabited the forge, providing the master with a source for qut. When a new forge was constructed, a ram would be sacrificed to these deities, and its blood sprinkled on the master’s tools.



A popular type of jewelry among the Turkic people, the tumar is an often triangular, but also tubelike or rectangular breast amulet meant to protect its wearer. Etymologically, tumar is from the Greek word τομάριον, essentially meaning “scroll;” however, it entered the Turkic languages via Persian. While most tumar have internal compartments for storing relics, some do not. Popular choices for relics include copies of the Quran, holy writs, carnelian stones, and soil from one’s home. It was thought that forging the tumar via gold or silver enhanced its magical capabilities (Qаdırov, 2022). Qаdırov also maintains that the triangular shape was a symbol of men, lightness, and fire when pointing upwards and women, darkness, and water when pointing downwards.

Many aspects of the tumar seemingly imply an Islamic origin; however, there may be reason to suspect a pre-Islamic Persian origin. The object below, sold to a private collector by TimeLine Auctions, is a pendant produced during the Sassanian dynasty of Eran (Iran) between the 3rd and 6th century C.E. Its tubelike shape, adorned with horizontally aligned garnets, is reminiscent of a typical Türkmen bozbend, the name for the tubelike component of a tumar (2nd image down). In fact, most Türkmen jewelry trace their forms to the artistic traditions that flourished in historical Iran and Central Asia during Late Antiquity.

In the Türkmen tradition, the meaning behind the bozbend and tumar's shape predates Islamic tradition. The bozbend symbolizes centrality. It can be thought of as the realm of men that divides heaven from hell, the mountains from the sea, or good from evil. In the literal sense, the upper triangular portion of the tumar took the shape of a mountain. Its shape shares an origin with the Türkmen dağdağan motif, itself, inherited from the Xuŋa (Xiongnu). The motif seen below adorned a Hunnic boot cover from the Noyan Ula burial complex:

The dağdağan is considered a sacred tree among the Turkic people. Some consider it to be from the Celtis genus, whose trees are also known as hackberries or nettle trees. And it is etymologically derived from Turkic *dag “mountain” and *dak- “to fasten,” hence, the meaning “fastened, attached to the mountain.” It may also have been one of the many designations for the World Tree. While it is technically a tree, it is symbolically represented by the mountain that it is attached to.

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