Cyprus legacy in filigree

January 16, 2019

Cyprus legacy in filigree

In Cyprus, the craft of jewellery-making is believed to have proliferated at around 2300 BC due to immigrants from Anatolia and Mycenae, which is commonly considered the beginning of the Bronze Age on the island (2300-1000 BC). 
The early Bronze Age was characterised by a limited use of metals: the earliest items discovered were copper earrings. The first use of silver in earrings was seen about 100 years later and the first use of gold followed a further 100 years later.

Nevertheless, this doesn’t rule out the other theory put forward recently with some acclaim that jewellery, like many other arts and crafts, originated in Cyprus.

The early and mid-Bronze Age (2400-1600 BC) left us examples of the first pieces of jewellery made by man: archaeologists have discovered numerous necklaces and fragments of earrings made from sea shells and precious stones across many sites in Cyprus that date back to this period. Indeed, metal was not used at first but it is clear the desire and skills necessary to create jewellery from different materials was already present.

The mid-Bronze Age saw trade with Syria, Palestine and Egypt increase which in turn saw increased use of gold and silver along with the export of Cypriot copper.

The metal-working techniques Cypriot jewellers used (which include filigree, granulation, niello and enamelling) rapidly advanced and they demonstrated exceptional artistry, the sophistication of which still fascinates experts and historians. These unique finds (mostly rings, bracelets, gold bowls, gold earrings) can be found in the permanent collection at the Cyprus Museum, and in exhibitions at a number of major museums worldwide. Most of the pieces were found in Engomi and near Salamina..

The late Bronze Age saw Cyprus really prosper with an influx of precious stones and metals.

The jewellery from the late Bronze Age (1650-1050 BC) that can be found in museum collections includes a wealth of gold and slightly less silver in the form of necklaces, rings, signet rings, clasps (brooches), earrings and bracelets with inlaid gem stones. There are also decorative gold panels worn on the waist that have been hammered using a stencil.

The skill of the ancient jewellers can be clearly seen from a set of discovered treasure

In 1998, in the southern outskirts of Larnaca, a necropolis was discovered that contained a particularly large amount of jewellery: 23 pieces of gold jewellery with inlaid semiprecious stones: 5 sets of earrings, all crescent-shaped with decoration in the form of boats or snakes forged from a single piece of cast gold; 3 rings made from solid gold with bezel seal inlaid with gem stones and faience. The technique used to make it is similar to that of the earrings mentioned above, — hammered from a solid ingot; 2 bracelets, the first is a woven bracelet made up of two parts with an inset of cabochon agate (a rather rare piece even compared to the other finds) and the second is a chain with a charm in the form of a scarab.

There was one other important find in this tomb — an unusual necklace made up of 17 beads of various shapes and sizes as well as a pendant. Its gold elements were made of gold alloy. Interestingly: the Egyptian influence can be clearly seen on some of the jewellery. Archaeologists are certain that some members of the Phoenician aristocracy, who also held a high position in the city of Kition, maybe even a family member of the ruler of the city, resided here. After all, the Phoenicians had ruled over the Kition dynasty since the archaic and classical period (the 8th-5th centuries BC).

The centuries that followed saw Cypriot jewellery undergo Greek and Roman influence.


The Hellenistic period (325-50 BC) is often characterised by jewellery with elements made of gold leaf — for example, imitation olive leaves for a winner’s wreath. There are pendants and earrings, twisted bracelets with carnelian, quartz crystal, emeralds shaped into a cabochon (hemisphere), and jade.

The early Byzantine era (6-8th centuries) stands out for its silver: silver earrings with pendants, clasps and brooches, as well as dishes depicting scenes of a Christian engagement (probably intended as wedding gifts) as well as biblical stories.

Women's jewellery took on a new form; it now boasted amethysts, pearls on long pendants, crosses, etc.

The real heyday of Cypriot jewellery was in the 17-19th centuries when Nicosia became the heart of jewellery craftsmanship

Although there were blacksmiths in the villages that could make silver spoons, forks, and simple jewellery, the cities, in particular Nicosia, were clearly the place to go to find the best workshops. The capital boasted a street of gold workers near the main market where the most experienced and revered gold and silver craftsmen would hold master classes. Their end pieces were sold either right there in their workshops or at village fairs held across the island.

Methods such as repoussage (or punching), granulation and enamelling, and inlaying coloured stones appeared very early. They have been preserved and continue to be used to this day in contemporary silver and gold work. The earliest jewellery dating back to that period is mostly silver with insets, pendants made of semi-precious stones and enamels: solid clasps demonstrating magnificent embossing techniques; woven bracelets, earrings and necklaces using filigree and granulation techniques, that were worn by Cypriots on the most special of occasions.

This era was also characterised by a fashion for pendants in the form of a stylised cross with inlaid precious stones or imitation stones made from coloured glass. Soled fibulae (clasps) were also popular: silver, embossed, plated with gold and enamel. Various silver and gold items and pieces of jewellery are now in museum collections, and are the pride of Cyprus’ private and church collections.

Women's clothing for special occasions and weddings in Cyprus, especially the most elegant and rich example from the Karpass Peninsula, were tailored with luxurious silver lace and needlework applique made from the golden thread, add with the addition of jewels (mirmidi, crosses, and silver necklaces); and gold kertan or skallet.

The male outfit is accessorised with simple silver pieces: jewellery, a watch and chain, necklace chains and rings. Greek and Turkish officials wore signet rings with a bezel seal and ancient jewellery with inlaid stones.

In the past, gold jewellery was rare and was worn primarily by the wealthy usually in the form of bracelets, necklaces, rings, earrings, crosses and brooches. Others had to be content with jewellery made of low-quality gold or gold leaf. Men also wore jewellery such as silver rings inlaid with stones, or a watch and chain. Greek and Turkish officials had rings with seals engraved with their initials. In some cases, Turkish officials would have phrases from the Koran engraved.

When it comes to tableware, Cypriot tradition shares a great deal in common with Greek and Balkan traditions due to their common Byzantine heritage: silver trays, dishes and bowls are staple pieces in both urban and rural houses in Cyprus. What’s more, many of the church’s sacred vessels, and frames for icons and the Bible were also made of silver.

Silver tableware: jewellers often used a filigree technique known as trifari, a woven pattern created from thin gold or silver wire, to decorate cutlery. The same technique, which has a spiderweb-like effect, was also used to make earrings, pendants and brooches, and decorative cutlery and dishes.

These days, jewellers (mainly in Lefkara and nearby villages) also work with filigree, making traditional jewellery, accessories and festive dishes.