After having spent many hours researching Rita’s collection of old Bedouin,Yemeni and Egyptian silver beads, pendants, jewelry and textiles, I recently had the opportunity to visit some of the places my mother, Rita Okrent, would frequent to acquire the old silver treasures in the Collection. I tried my hand at negotiating with and buying from the Israeli Arab, Bedouin and Palestinian merchants for old silver jewelry in the Flea Market of Old Jaffa (Yafo) and the Old City of Jerusalem shuk (souk).
Shopping in the markets in Israel was a lot of fun and educational. I heard a consistent theme from merchants that they are having a hard time getting old silver now, as it’s just not available – particularly from Egypt – Siwa Oasis and Sinai, and from Yemen and Libya. The merchants are seeing a lot of treasures coming from Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and other central Asian countries, and they are getting some Bedouin items from local Bedouin tribes. Most vendors in the Old City try to sell new silver ethnic replicas to tourists until they understand that a customer knows the difference and can identify it. Prices on old silver started quite high, and when I explained that my prices to our customers were lower than theirs, they argued that I needed to raise my prices! I responded that they needed to lower theirs! The mint tea and Turkish coffee and intensive bargaining were worth the time and effort as I came home with some lovely collector-level items as well as some practical pendants and beads for all our artisan customers who use ethnic silver in designs.
See the photos included with this blog post showing scenes from the souk as well as some of the treasures purchased for the Collection. I will be listing these newly acquired treasures on the RitaOkrent.com website and in our Etsy shop, RitaOkrentCollection in the coming weeks. If prices seem higher than in previous years, that reflects current prices to acquire these treasures, and yes, I bargained at length for each item!
The merchants were wonderful with my young teenage kids and I, keeping an eye on them as we negotiated, educating the kids on the history of items they found interesting (such as daggers, and a deep ancient well!), and making sure we were safe. I encourage everyone to go to Israel and other countries in the Middle East to visit. It feels like peace when you talk (American politics and ethnic jewelry!) among the people and everyone works to and wants to get along. We shared much laughter and good conversation, and the kids and I appreciated the wonderful hospitality and kindness. I can’t wait to go back for my next visit and shopping trip!
With love and gratitude to our customers and friends for your endless patience and continued business and affection,
The Rita Okrent Collection