|Detail of old Kuchi choker with beadwork|
Kuchi jewelry has been a favorite of tribal belly dancers since, well, since tribal belly dance began. These beautiful pieces with colorful glass jewels originally came from the nomadic tribes that wandered the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, moving along ancient routes between the seasons. The word Kuchi itself is derived from a Persian word meaning migration, in relation to nomads or gypsies, and does not describe a particular group or people, but rather a state of being. The jewelry of these wandering peoples incorporates design elements from many cultures including those of India, the Middle East, Central Asia and the tribal areas of the former Soviet Union. These jewelry artists used coins, bells, and large colorful glass jewels to produce lovely chokers, necklaces, cuff bracelets, pendants, belts, rings, earrings, headpieces and more completely by hand, often in centuries-old designs. These pieces sometimes incorporated beadwork or embroidery.
As with many tribal cultures, jewelry makers were most often men and produced jewelry for families or individuals on request or for sale. They used the highest quality components available or that the family could afford. Older pieces were made in good grades of silver whenever possible, sometimes up to 90% and more, but if silver was not available or affordable, they used whatever metals were convenient. These might include nickle, brass, tin or other base metals as well as coins. The metal was melted down to make new pieces of flashing jingling finery that were worn by the women of the tribes for ceremonies and everyday purposes or decorated their animals for protection and luck. The women would then often add beautiful beadwork or embroidery to add color and functionality.
Over the centuries, and most recently in particular, these nomadic tribes have become more settled and don't travel over the great distances that they did long ago. Wars, droughts, borders and poverty have forced them to stay within ever decreasing ranges. These days most of the people once thought of as 'Kuchi' are now settled in towns and villages where they can make a more substantive living. Young people, too, don't wish to live a semi-nomadic life and prefer to live in areas where they can find jobs and a wider social life. The interest in jewelry making is now almost exclusively done for profit and trade with others outside their culture. Unfortunately this means that where pieces were once all well designed and made with care, the quality can now vary greatly from artist to artist, place to place and even piece to piece.
Trade with the US and other western countries has made the original old pieces a scarcity these days. They can still be found, but usually have a high price attached to them, especially if they are silver. Good quality collectible pieces can still be found once in a while and new pieces abound in both high and low prices and quality. A quality piece, whether new or old, can be told by a nice design, a good feel and quality construction. If you have a question about the value of a piece, do some research before buying or purchase from a reputable dealer where you can make returns if you change your mind or are not satisfied.
You can see examples of some of these pieces at The Red Camel. The Red Camel has been dealing in tribal Kuchi jewelry since 2003 and has built a great reputation within the belly dance community. Please visit my web site or see my other blog entries for more information!
Update: Shown below is an example I found on the web of a new Kuchi choker being incorrectly listed as an old or vintage piece of jewelry. It very well could have been made by Kuchi craftsmen, but this is a NEW lightweight choker that the seller has listed as an antique piece and is being sold at a very high price! These new pieces can be well-made and can look nice, and many are made by Kuchi craftsmen, please just be aware of what you are buying!!