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The beautiful city of Mardin is home to an ancient tradition of goldsmiths and fine metalworkers, who sell stunning pieces of jewelry in the city’s historic center to this day. The master craftsmen employ the technique of filigree, which is art made from wires, to make distinctive, ornate designs for jewelry. Keep reading to learn about the fascinating process by which Mardinian filigree jewelry is made.
The Mardinian style of filigree is called Telkari and is an ancient, exacting form of jewelry making. The original Mesopotamian inhabitants of the Mardin region made pieces of ornated wire jewelry dating back to 3000 BC, and the tradition has been passed down from generation to generation since then. The process starts with handmade wires, heated and then rolled through a special mill to thin and smooth the metal. These fine wires are knitted or wrapped around themselves in oval and round shapes. The Telkari tradition originated with Syriac masters in Mardin in the 15th century. The Mardinian style is also known as "Vav-work" due to the frequent use of the Ottoman letter vav—similar to an English letter g—as a motif. The intricate looped wires in geometrical and motif-based designs can be found on cutlery, dishes and mirror frames as well as bracelets, earrings, belts and necklaces.Each Telkari work consists of two main parts. The first is the main skeleton of the work called the "muntaç" or guide, and the second part is ornate wire motifs. Unlike other styles of filigree, where wire is fixed to metal plates for decoration, Telkari filigree is made entirely of fine intricate wires. Another detail of Telkari filigree is that the wires are welded together to create the design, instead of using solder. Welding is a more difficult process and when done incorrectly it can cause the metal to break but it creates a stronger, longer lasting, more lustrous piece in the long term. Mardinian goldsmiths take pride in their classical technique and still use the same exacting craftsmanship as the original Mesopotamian artists. Filigree is often associated with only silver, but the proud tradition of the Mardin region is made out of gold. Assyrian Telkari master Metin Ezilmez explains the allure of the Mardin goldsmith tradition this way, “As an artist, we can work on any metal. It will be copper, silver, gold, it doesn't matter, But…the filigree art of Mardin’s center exists with gold.”Filigree jewelry has spread throughout the world and stunning examples can be found in museums from New York to London to Portugal, but the tradition and heritage of Telkari is strongest in the place where it began—Mardin. The shops that line the historic city center are like little museums where a single craftsman creates every aspect of the jewelry, from melting down bullion to welding the final ornaments on. The city’s goldsmiths are steeped in tradition and beauty and your piece of Mardin gold jewelry will be too!
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