Pippa's Travel Diaries: Uzbekistan

About fifteen years ago, whilst out browsing, I found a beautiful silver and enamelled bracelet in a small dusty shop of exotic antiquities in Brussels. I was told the bracelet was from the 19th century and came from Uzbekistan. I loved the Turquoise glass paint so reminiscent of the tiles of the magnificent mosques of central Asia, and the skilled craftsmanship.


A few years later, I was thinking hard about finding a new workshop to produce with and thought the enamel work of Uzbekistan might be a wonderful area to explore. It felt ancient yet fresh and the palates of old glass enamel presented an exciting opportunity to work in silver. It was also a wonderful reason to spend time in Uzbekistan and learn more about it. So, I set off on a journey to discover the artisans who worked in silver and enamel.

I arrived with my bracelet in Tashkent and felt immediately a sense of space and vast skies, the curious Soviet and central Asian mix of architecture and the delightful taxi system, which was to stick your arm out and any passing car might stop, and for a few coins give you a lift.

So, I began a wonderful adventure travelling alone across this vast and fascinating country, travelling by bus, train and taxi. I journeyed from Tashkent to Samarkand meeting craftsmen, Ikat weavers, ceramicists, and silversmiths - but no one recognised the enamel work as being from there.

They suggested Bukhara, so off I went - leaving with my eyes still stained a rich heavenly blue from all the tile gazing I had done in Samarkand. Bukhara was quieter and beautiful, eating fruit under a tree in the shade or chatting with local craftsmen, drinking hot green tea from small glass cups in the outdoor cafes that are in every square.

I would pull out my bracelet and there was much discussion. I learnt the enamel work was not from Bukhara but maybe from Khiva in the northwest. But there I was told that the piece was Russian! Sadly, I discovered that, although Uzbekistan was beautiful and the people wonderful, it was very difficult to set up a small business with the artisans there due to tricky export laws.