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Jewelry made of river stones

TRADITIONAL JEWELERY: Ducats, Corals, River Pearls and Morcici

Rich heritage of traditional Croatian adornments can be seen at the Ethnographic museum, but the old jewelry workmanship technologies are also brought back to life in jewelry stores in Zagreb.

 The Ethnographic museum in Zagreb has a collection of traditional adornments which includes the most common Croatian adornments such as hair jewelry and headgear, earrings, neck, breast and arm jewelry. “National jewelry is a reflection of cultural and historical influences, geographical features and contemporary creativity of individuals. Croatian jewelry was more than just adornment for woman and man, it was also an indicator of religious affiliations, position and place in a society, the marriage readiness, and a form of family material security”, said Ivanka Ivkanec, Museum Consultant at the Ethnographic museum. Jewelry was mentioned and clearly noted in grants and testaments, the first written traces of jewelry. For centuries there was a difference between folk and class jewelry, which was present until the age of industrialization, when jewelry became the status symbol and ladies start to wear them made of precious, expensive and imported materials, and the folks would copy that jewelry with cheaper and more available materials. With the development of industry the jewelry becomes mass, and the traditional adornments became more contemporary and urban.

From ducats to corals

Ivanka Ivkanec explained the classification of traditional adornments according to regional, cultural and historical criteria, to Pannonian, Dinaric and Adriatic ethnographic areas.

In Pannonian south lowland area (Banija, Baranja, Croatian Posavina, Croatian Zagorje, Međimurje, Moslavina, Podravina, Slavonia, Turopolje and Žumberak) artificial flowers were used to make jewelry in a great extent, as well as silk factory ribbons, small mirrors, feathers, glass grains, red coral, mother-of-pearl and metal. Precious silver and gold was used to make jewelry in the rich Slavonian area, while ceremonial costumes for woman, and parts of ceremonial costumes for man, were decorated with embroidement made of golden or silver strings. Earrings were made in different shapes, form simplest metal rings, to the ones reminding of a spring of lily of the valley flower. There were many filigree work earrings made of two or three silver parts connected in a single entity, known as obočići (Cro.). Rich woman from Slavonia would embellish their ears with golden coins of Austro-Hungary monarchy, ducats, or sometimes their imitation. They would wear necklaces made of red corals, mother-of-pearl grains and small, golden or silver glass beads or glass grains of different colors, which were string on threads or horse strings.

In the south mountain Dinaric area (Dalmatia Hinterland, Gorski kotar, Kordun, Lika i Ravni Kotari) woman would wear huge jewelry, especially breast jewelry, and many of it, to demonstrate their material and social status. It was also an easily transmitted family asset. It was made of silver, brass, copper and alloys using simple techniques of casting, forging, punching and, sometimes, filigree. The typical male heads cover, and almost always the female head cover, was a small red cloth-cap, without the rim, called red cap. It was decorated with embroidery and very often with a string of silver coins. The coins were very common in jewelry workmanship, and apart from coins, a winkle species ossicle was also popular, cypraea moneta (bot.), which was also used as a form of exchange. Clasp pins called pafte (cro.), were made of silver or brass and worn around the waste.

Necklaces with gold-plated hazelnuts

The characteristic of the Adriatic ethnographic area, inshore, coastal and islands, were the silver or gold-plated pins with decorated heads made by filigree technique. Island Zlarin in Šibenik, an old coral center, is well known for the workmanship of jewelry ornamented with corals. Coral necklaces were typical jewelry of woman of Island Mljet. These necklaces were composed of several strings of ground red coral that were connected with gold-plated hazelnut fruit, a folk substitute for a golden grain.

Mother-of-pearl was also used to make jewelry, but unlike necklaces in Pannonian area, here it was used to make Prayer beads called rosary, chaplet or kralješ (cro.), with a silver cross made by casting or filigree technique. In breast jewelry category there were also ties, worn in pairs. They were made of gold-plated silver, brass or gold, by casting and molding in order to show a figure of a certain patron saint. Moretto, golden jewelry in a form of a black person’s bust, is the most famous jewelry of this area.

Lately, the original traditional jewelry fashion is returning to jewelry stores. The most prominent store in traditional adornments workmanship in Zagreb is “Križek”, a family crafts with a 75 years old tradition, which was certified by Croatian Chamber of Economy with ”Originally Croatian” certificate for two jewelry collections: Moretto from Croatian Littoral and “traditional jewelry of Dubrovnik”. Those are the only two collections in Croatia that have this certificate, and last September they were on an exhibition at Centre for Design in Croatian Chamber of Economy.

Enameled jewelry with a power of protection

Morettos are traditional golden jewelry in a form of a black person’s head, and there are a lot of historical stories about them. As we were told by Vladimir Križek, one of the owners of jewelry store, the Moretto jewelry was used for earrings in Adriatic coast area as early as 3rd century BC.

In a constant interaction with Levant, and especially with the Saracen invasions at the Adriatic area, our people were introduced to Islamic warriors Manors and they were the image for an enameled head of a black person with a turban, as a symbol of Islam. At the time of constant threat by the Turks, coming for the land or the sea, the head of a black man with a turban was identified with a figure of a Turk, due to the turban, but also the rough appearance of the Asian warrior.

These earrings were soon worn by women in Littoral and on islands, and in Vinodol the seamen would wear them on one ear, because it was believed to have a power of protection.

The creation of the Moretto was greatly influenced by Venice which was, in a sense of fashion, obsessed by the Orient in the 17th and 18th centuries, and in addition to oriental spices, fabrics, clothes and jewelry, it ‘imported’ black pages and servants in oriental dress into the salons of the rich Venetian aristocracy. They inspired many Venetian goldsmiths into making decorative pins in the form of a black man with a turban called “Moretto” – jeweler Križek explains. At the same time, a modest version of the Moretto was made in Rijeka, and due to reasonable prices, the Moretto soon became a traditional piece of women’s jewelry mostly in Rijeka.

People of Rijeka were very proud of their workmanship and they even called it “industria fiumana”. At the beginning, Moretto jewelry was very simple, but it became more and more luxurious, and in 1845 one set was ordered to be custom made for Austrian Queen Maria Anna, the wife of Ferdinand II. She made her own design for a whole set to be made by a famous goldsmith Giovani Koroševac. Since that time, up until today, regardless the fashion trends, Moretto jewelry did not lose value and it is no wonder that it is considered to be the original Croatian jewelry.

Having a historical value, the making of Moretto jewelry is a great challenge for every jeweler, and it takes a lot of time, knowledge and experience. Ever since the beginning, a Moretto is made by casting after which it is enameled in several layers. It takes about an hour to make one Moretto, and this jewelry is also quite popular outside Croatia. Each piece made in Križek jewelry store comes with a specially designed box and a certificate note with a story of the origin of Moretto, on a bilingual DVD.

The challenge of old craftsmen’s techniques

– We are the only ones who processed the Moretto project from the beginning to the end, that is from development and research part, to the treatment and finally the certificate – says Viktor Križek.

– We found the project of making Moretto jewelry a great challenge, because we did not use the casting and enameling technique before. Originally a cuttle-bone was used in this process, but modern technology can now be applied to the process. Although different kinds of jewelry are made with the image of Moretto, such as charms, brooches, decorative pins and rings, the earrings are still the most popular and most frequently made decorative items with this image.

In the Sunday flurry of the Open air antiques fair at Britanski square in Zagreb, one of the most visited stand is the one with the replicas of traditional Croatian jewelry made and sold by craftsman Hrvoje Marušić. For each peace of jewelry he can tell a story of location and historical origin. Each peace was hand-made by Marušić and prepared for further production in molds, and he has also mastered the traditional shapes and techniques, from filigree to granulation, punching and plating and silvering.

– All replicas are made from alloys of different materials, galvanic and silver or gold-plated, patinated, and protected with organic varnish to prevent oxidation and direct contact of skin and metal. The coins that are embedded in jewelry are also castings. The only silver parts are the fishhooks for the earrings. Replicas are custom made for museums, theatres and folklore ensembles, for example Lado which is known throughout the entire world. Since most of the original pieces of jewelry were damaged or ruined, the replicas serve the purpose of preservation of cultural heritage – proudly says Marušić.


Written  by Gordana Popović

Photo: Gordana Popović, Križek archives

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