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An Imperfect Egyptian Cartouche

Debbie (Widget's Beads) who is a dear friend and my co-instructor at beading workshops is first and foremost a jewelry lover. The interest in making jewelry came after.

A self-confessed magpie, she is fond of collecting interesting pieces, and many of her friends and family know it. A few years back, I managed to purchase for her a lovely orangish red garnet from a small little Indian jewelry store in a Malay bazaar when we were on vacation in Malaysia. Recently, she received a colourful beaded Huichol bracelet from her neighbour.

But she also is quick to to seize opportunities herself to add to her collection. Debbie knew of someone who was going back to Egypt for a holiday. She commissioned an Egyptian jeweler to make her an 18K gold cartouche pendant bearing her name in hieroglyphics encased in an oval.

Cartouche is French for cartridge. These symbols were apparently named by Napoleonic era French soldiers who noticed them amongst Egyptian writings on ancient monuments and were reminded of their ammunition. No one at the time knew what the cartouche stood for.

Around the 4th century AD, people lost the ability to read and write hieroglyphics. The linguistic key to unlocking the language of the ancient Egyptians lay with the Rosetta Stone which was dug up by French soldiers in 1799. The Greek writing on this stone slab allowed scholars to translate the hieroglyphics. The cartouche is now known to signify a royal name. The oval ring (a stylised tied rope) around the name symbolised everything the sun touched and alluded to the Pharaoh's power and sovereignty.

Egyptian writing is one of the oldest scripts in the world - each sign indicates either a sound (phonogram) or represents a complete word (ideogram). Debbie's pendant shows the phonetic representation of her given name Debra. She chose to go with Debra for two reasons. Firstly, there were no repeats of symbols unlike Debbie and secondly, it costs less with just 5 letters as opposed to 6!

There is one deliberate flaw in the design for Egyptian jewelers believe only God can create perfectly. If you look closely at the two pictures below, the bail is placed backwards. The more ornate engravings face the back.



If you are interested in getting your own cartouche in silver or gold, try Nilestone.com (no affiliation) who provide a custom jewelry service - handcrafted by talented Egyptian artisans. If you just want to see what your own name looks like in hieroglyphics, check out this online hieroglyphics translator.

Thanks to Debbie for this blog post idea and for the use of her photos.

References
Cleveland Museum of Art : The Finding of the Rosetta Stone
Wikipedia : Egyptian Hieroglyphics
Tour Egypt's The Ancient Egyptian Cartouche
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6 comments:

  1. I'm off to see what MY name looks like in hieroglyphics!!

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  2. I've always been amazed at how artisans get so arrogant that they feel that they must place flaws in their work due to God being the only one supposed to able to make something perfectly! Oh well, to each his own!

    I have long been interested in hieroglyphs and remember one field trip where I spent double my entire souvenir money on a set of hieroglyph stamps... my Mom was expecting half of her 20 dollar bill back, but it was one of those had to have items. Now, I believe it might be at her house... I'll rescue it if I can find the set!

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  3. I wonder if it is less arrogance and more a deeply religious thing?

    Were you planning to do some nifty jewelry making with those hieroglyphic stamps?

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  4. I've looked back at my "perfect" pieces, and there is always something wrong. These things just happen, "placing" them just seems like a relief from OCD and perfectionism type problems. When you know something has a mistake you feel better knowing it wasn't meant to be perfect. But if they want a socially acceptable excuse, I am not going to make them correct the flaws.

    I've always been super interested in ancient writing and pyramids and Egypt, I must have only been in second grade, so probably not for jewelry but more for general crafts.

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  5. That is exactly why many people love artisan jewelry - they are never perfect because they were hand crafted by a human not machine made in a factory.

    Same reason why gemstones, slate tiles etc are so attractive - no two pieces are alike.

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  6. I agree completely Beading Gem. That is why handmade is so appealing!

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