Ethnic Jewels

An appreciation of ethnic jewellery and adornment

Here is an interesting web site with a short article about Moshe Nemni and a video of a Tunisian silversmith working.

Moshe Nemni has become the patron saint of Tunisian silver smiths, and his style is now widely imitated by Djerba artisans.  This all leaves me with a lot of questions.  I asked a few jewelry dealers in Djerba how I could distinguish an actual Moshe Nemni piece from something done by another artisan in the style of Nemni.  I never got a straight answer.  A Tunisian friend with me at the time was completely bemused by the responses I received during these exchanges, remarking that the silver dealers I spoke with spouted long eulogies to Nemni, but completely avoided my questions.

So....does anyone out there know for certain how one identifies a piece made by Nemni????

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Moshe Nemni is deceased.  His pieces are highly prized.  Nemni was a Libyan Jew by origin, and is also known for his Judaica.  He is especially known for his skilled chisel work and the tight composition of his designs with highly geometrical forms.  I have yet to find more information about him, but I suspect that he may have studied under the Italians in Tripoli (there was a school there for jewelers.)  I believe he set up his practice in Djerba after WWII.  I only saw one set of anklets for sale that I trusted were actual Moshe Nemni.  Many of the silver dealers in Tunis will tell you something is by Moshe Nemni, but it is not true.  I own 2 pieces that are in the style of Nemni...a fish tail pendant and a harz.  I think both of these are probably by Faycel Ben Ghorbal, a modern artisan still working in Djerba who is very talented.  He works in Nemni's style.

Thanks, Edith. Good to know and see. But I couldn`t find the givemehamsa site, just a couple of articles.

Other than distinguishing by eye ( age, skill, pattern etc. ) I don`t know how one could see the difference. Are there any collections of Moshe Nemni`s work do you know?. Another question, I know.

I don't know any collections.  The one set of anklets I saw had a very specific design etched on the inside...I think it was a khamsa with fish.  This would have been Nemni's "signature."  I didn't even ask their price because I knew it would have been way out of my price range....but the anklets were very beautiful, done in the Gabes style of very heavy massive silver.

Thanks for all the info. Edith. Any chance of seeing your fish tail and the hartz?

Did he then have a khamsa and fish on all his pieces?..

The site is also great about Tunisian culture (literatuer etc...)

I don't really know if Nemni marked all his pieces.  I am hoping someone else in our forum can provide additional references or info.  Here again is the piece by Ben Ghorbal....

I do not think Nemni worked in any other metals, but could not say for certain.  The khamsa and fish are a traditional motif found on many Tunisian pieces.  I think what makes this the "Nemni Style" is the compact design, the scalloped edge, deep chiseling, and the angular terminations of the foliage.  I also love the way the foliage becomes the tail of the fish.  Nemni's influence can be clearly felt in this piece.  I think similar design elements can be seen in this bracelet by a Tunis artist.

The Hamza often has a fish design on it - this is not unique to Tunisia , but found throughout the Jewish world. The fish is used to represent the Ayn Hara ( evil eye ) because of its shiny scales. The idea being that if someone puts the evil eye on you it is reflected back.

Other popular symbols on the Hamza include :

* the pomegranate ( 613 mitzvot ) each seed represents a mitzvah ( holy commandment )   

* חי - the Chai ,  Jewish letters of Chet and Yud - meaning " Life "

* the Magen David - six sided star of King David

* the Ayn Hara - evil eye

* the salamander - representing protection from fire

*  יהוה - The unmentionable name of G-D , letters of the Hebrew alphabet , Yud , Hei , Vav , Hei

Dear all who participated in this discussion.

Yesterday I was asked to identify a silver Yad, which showed the stamp of 942 and a very small stamped mark of a fish.

Did Moshe Nemni used it?  This is not clear from the discussion, nor from the added site about him.

Thanks in advance for any reaction.

Tsipporah Sofer 

Last time i visited tunisia i was offered a couple of bracelets in Tunis Medina as being not "nemni" but "nemli" which in arabic means "ants work" and could mean that they are the most intricately done!!!

I was bemused by the fact that "nemni's" glory is slowly fading and being replaced by an adjectiv to qualify his intricate work which could easily fit in local culture without glorifying a jewish artisan!!

But maybe my understanding or even my hearing capabilities are at fault in this case!!

I was also being almost forced to sell a small open bracelet i used to wear back then bearing a couple of a libyan jewish hallmarks with the smith's name "KAKON": a common jewish patronym in north africa!

That means that the jewish pedigree of the smith scores high demand, but in nemni's case it is highly accepted for the ork was really amazing!

Once again, nemni's cooworkers, appretices and contomporary smiths would have produced equally similar work if not superior but sometimes one single person stands out as being the most celebrated as is the case for example of the other Libyan/Egyptian smith "MEKKAWI"

In this case it is quite similar to other contemporary art production such as paintings and sometimes it does not deserve the asking price and has more to do with a collector's frenzy or a recent book publication or even an exhibit highlighting the artist's life!


could specify for your personal experience and records how many folds a memni's piece would score a price in the market compared to regular provenance?

Thanks for your post!  I did not know the meaning of "nemli" and this is very interesting!  If one can find a real "Nemni" piece, such a for example an anklet, it would command thousands easily.  A normal anklet would have been only a few hundred based on weight (last time I visited the suk).  The thing about Nemni is that his work generates a great deal of interest not only among jewelry collectors, but also among collectors of Judaica, and this drives the price up exponentially.

Nice to meet you ,my daughter lives in El Kantaoi with Tunesian husband and children.
My facebook friend from Djerba is Ashen Guerfallah..
En Septembre je visiterai ma fille et Djerba.
Je Vous souhaite un bon week,end.Therese.

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