Golden Reflections on the Emerald Sword

By Lemi Özgen

The tall, squarely-built, fifteen-year-old boy had been working hard in the goldsmith workshop. As he was just about to tie a knot on the silk-thin gold wire he had just meticulously pulled and extended, it snapped once again. The young man's face, which was already red with perspiration, burnt even more.
He grabbed the anvil with his claw-like hands and furiously threw it away. He swept away all the tools, knives, scissors, hammers and big and small gold plates with the back of his hand and cast them on the floor.
He had been working for hours, making gold wire, but each time he tried to make them into a woven bracelet, the wire snapped off.  As he was panting in rage, he heard the voice of a white-bearded man who was approaching him.

The man said, "I tell you all the time, gold is like a delicate girl. You always have to be polite to it." The young man turned toward the voice and saw his master, who had taught him goldsmithery. He felt embarrassed. He took the gold plates and tools off the floor and put them on the table. The master and the apprentice put themselves to work and started to turn the magical metal gold into a gorgeous mat bracelet.

The young man was called Selim. It was 1487 and Selim was learning state affairs during his term in the province of Trabzon and he was also working hard to be a master goldsmith. After a short while, the entire world would know him as the Ottoman Emperor Yavuz Sultan Selim.

It lay over there, between the ancient rock formations which were corroded by centuries of harsh and foamy whirlpool waves. It shone bright yellow under the sunlight which passed through the wild willows and silver-leafed oleaster trees. Depending on the time of the day, it sometimes spread moonlight or candle light in yellow or copper-red reflections.

The first person who saw it felt as if he were struck by lightening. He was too scared to hold it in his hand. His eyes were dazzled by its bright yellow light and after a while those eyes were closed to everything else other than this light. Thus, the most passionate and most perilous love in the history of human beings started.

Mankind fell in love with this yellow metal which would will later be called “gold.” He spilled blood, sailed across oceans, and reduced great empires to ashes in order to possess a piece of this precious metal.
Thus, the endless journey of gold and its lover, mankind began. The Spanish conquerors destroyed the South American civilizations of the Incas, Mayans and Aztecs for their gold. In California, hundreds of thousands of people honeycombed the mountains in search of gold. The miners of Transvaal dug deep underground. Gold had become the symbol of wealth, power, divinity and even immortality.

Gold started to embellish people's dreams. These dreams extended from the legendary land of wealth and witchcraft, Kolkhis, which represents humankind’s will to journey to a remote paradise, to the fairy tale golden land of Eldorado.

The adventures of the Argonauts on the trail of the Golden Fleece, the tale of the Lydian King Croesus, who was known for his wealth and passion for gold, and the story of greedy King Midas show us that gold brings unhappiness along with happiness.

Gold artists, that is to say goldsmiths, helped gold spread happiness to mankind because only they knew how to elegantly present gold to the masses with their yearning for beauty. Through art, gold has given the greatest happiness to mankind.   

The journey of gold through time has been very fast. It has passed through the Seven Cities of Cibola, the Golden Age of Greek Mythology, Golden Rains, Golden Apples, Argonauts, the Tombs of the Pharaohs, the Golden Calf of the Hebrews and the Ears of Midas.
Gold artisans also passed through those same periods in history. Their final destination was Istanbul, a glorious city on "seven hills.” All the civilizations intersected at a closed market place with narrow roads. They squeezed into small shops and started giving life to gold.

They worked on it with such mastery that the heavy air inside the market place was covered with gold dust. The star-bright sparks from their anvils and hammers illuminated everything around them. They, the gold artisans, illuminated that market place, which is called the "Grand Bazaar”. That closed box became a great ball of light from the reflections of the gold. The closed box was clothed in reflections from the gold from head to toe.

The world's most mysterious, inaccessible and magical metal, gold traveled all around the world and then stopped by in Anatolia. Here, gold met the Ottomans as well as the Hittite Empire, the Phrygians, the Urartu civilization, the Ephesians, and the Byzantines.

For six centuries, eye-dazzling jewelry was the symbol of the Ottoman Empire. As Islamic tradition required moderate use of gold, a silver or tombacware dinner service was used instead of gold. And if gold had to be used, that was done by mixing it with other metals.
The art of goldsmithing was especially loved and supported by Ottoman emperors. Yavuz Sultan Selim and Sultan Suleyman, two of the strongest emperors of the Ottoman Empire, learned goldsmithery during their terms in Trabzon as princes.

When these two emperors donned their swords and sat on the throne, people said, "Golden reflections of goldsmithing is rippled on their swords embossed in emerald" to emphasize their skill in goldsmithery.

Various other metals were brought and used along with gold in Ottoman jewelry. For instance, turquoise was brought from Nishabur, diamonds from India, carbuncles from Badakhshan, rubies from Seylan, emeralds from Egypt and pearls and cornelian from Yemen.

Ottoman jewelry is best known for panache, tuft, necklaces, bandeaux, brooch pins, garlands, earrings, bracelets, rings, bangles, armlets, buttons, chains, belts and belt buckles.

The Ottomans showed their mastery in goldsmithing not only in jewelry but also in other fields. The cover of the book called "The Council of Murat III”, which is exhibited in the Topkapi Palace Museum, is more glorious than most Ottoman jewelry.
The cover of this book, which was crafted by the Bosnian Master Mehmed, was carved with a goldsmith comb into curved branches with Rumis and embellished with
square or flat emerald and rubies.

Panache, which was worn by both men and women, is another proof of the extraordinary art of goldsmithing. Again an example exhibited in the Topkapi Palace Museum, a panache crafted in the 18th century, still continues to dazzle the beholders with its golden handle, giant emerald and flower shaped diamonds.

Brooch pins decorated with diamonds, emeralds and rubies; fantastically designed `vibrant` jewelry; various rings called `solitaire`, `rose` or `Divanhane civisi`; bracelets and necklaces called `stream`, earrings called `pay-i cift` and `tripod` prove the mastery of Ottomans in the art of goldsmithing.
Ottoman women have also surrendered to the irresistible attraction of gold and jewelry. And they liked `panache` the most, for only panache was worn by both men and women. The emperor, high ranking officers, the most powerful women of the palace and women from outside the palace sometimes wore the same panache.

Thus, the use of panache served as a show of glory, which also indirectly determined one’s power, and as a symbol of social class.

It was admired by many women, worn covered or uncovered, of various ages and from various communities who wanted `a little more equality`. If one day you were to pass through Istanbul's Grand Bazaar or Topkapi Palace, you would see the most splendid jewels of the world.

Please take a closer look at the box adorned with emeralds. That box is streaked with the reflections of gold dust from a fifteen-year-old teenager’s hands. His name was Selim.

Also take a closer look at the panache which is adorned with emeralds. On the emeralds of the panache, can you see the hidden tears of `Dil-i Nergis Hatun`, which she shed for equality?     

Jewelry Special Issue, October 2006 
Last modified onSaturday, 06 May 2017 10:07