The term güherse
- sometimes spelt güverse - is a word of Persian origin meaning 'jewel-like',
and refers to decoration consisted of tiny metal beads welded onto articles made of silver
and gold. In Turkey the resemblance of these tiny globules to opium (haşhaş)
seeds led to güherse being known as haşhaş work. Güherse is a very ancient
ornamental technique for metalwork, probably discovered because of the natural tendency
for the noble metals to form drops when cooling from the fluid state.
Mesopotamia, a region which was cradle to civilization in many different respects, is
also where güherse work was first discovered. From here it spread to other parts of the
world, the technique popularity waxing and waning over the centuries. It was in the hands
of Turkish jewellers, however, that it was taken to its final stage of refinement. During
the Ottoman period jewellers became so expert that today it is virtually impossible to
replicate their work.
involves overcoming two major problems; the first to produce equal sized drops, and the
second to weld these to the metal surface of the object. The Ottomans mastered this
technique to perfection, producing beautiful works of art.
Two practical methods can be used to produce drops of equal size. The first is to wind
finely drawn gold or silver wires around a thin nail without leaving any spaces. This
forms an even spring, which is then re-moved from the nail and cut down the centre to
produce tiny rings. These are placed spaced apart on an asbestos sheet and heated with a
blowtorch. As they melt, the rings form drops, which fall into a bowl of water where they
cool into equal sized balls. Until thirty or forty years ago, this process was carried out
on a log of walnut from which the oil had been scorched out.
Alternatively the drawn wire can be measured into equal lengths and then melted to form
drops in a similar way. However, both these methods are only practicable for small
quantities. To produce beads by the hundred, a different method entirely was required. Oak
charcoal was pounded to powder and tiny pieces of silver of equal size mixed into it. This
mixture of silver and charcoal dust was poured into a pan made of cast iron or thick sheet
metal, which was placed on a fire of oak charcoal. As the charcoal dust heated to the same
temperature as the charcoal of the fire beneath, the pieces of silver melted into drops,
but were prevented by fusing together by the charcoal dust. Although simple in principle,
success in practice depended, like so many of the traditional arts, on the skill and
experience of the craftsman.
was then removed from the fire and the contents poured into a sieve to remove the charcoal
dust. The beads were then poured into sulphuric acid to brighten them.
Every metal and alloy has a different melting point, which is why when two pieces of
metal are to be attached, they must be of the same standard. For example, silver beads of
900 parts per thousand must be used on a buckle of the same standard. Having obtained the
silver beads, it was time to weld them to the surface. Unfortunately, there are no clear
contemporary accounts of the welding techniques used by craftsmen in past centuries. The
technique used today is to gouge out tiny depressions with a sharp ended instrument at the
points where the beads are to be welded. This serves both to prevent the beads rolling
away and to hold the borax paste which is applied with a brush. A flame is then passed
over the work and the balls are thus fused to the surface.
ornamentation is as delightful as it is difficult, and articles of many kinds were
decorated in this way. Buckles, coffee cup holders, tepelik (decorative metal
caps worn over headdresses), harnesses and scabbards are among the items to be seen in
museums and private collections.