Islamic silver, being a western definition, tends to apply to a particularly broad period and area.
Persian and Ottoman silver are the main categories of Islamic silver, keeping in mind that the two empires lasted for centuries and occupied an extremely vast area, from the Mediterranean up to the far-East.
Over the centuries the Islamic culture, thanks to exceptionally skilled masters, created some of the finest pieces of decorative art and jewellery for sophisticated and infinitely rich courts.
Persian silver refers to silverware produced in Persia, Modern Iran. Iran was a major centre of culture, rich in valuable resources, especially metal. Ancient works are exceptionally fine, rare and valuable, but the majority of Persian silver now on the market was produced during the 19th century and afterwards.
Persian silver is generally marked with the number “84” in Farsi (later stamped in Arabic numerals), for a silver fineness of 875/1000. The standard is based on the adjoining Russian system.
The most prolific centre producing silver is the city of Isfahan, Iran, where in the late-19th and early 20th century numerous workshops produced a quantity of silver items, often made for a western clientele. The most common Persian silver items are vases, tea services, trays, boxes, cigarette cases. The ones made in Isfahan feature a very distinctive style engraved and chased with a detailed stylized floral and foliage decoration and figural repoussé scenes. Lahiji and Vartan are among the best silversmiths and manufacturers working in Isfahan in this period.
Less common, but also peculiar for decorative themes, is the silver produced in the city of Shiraz. Shiraz silver also features highly-decorative repoussé scenes, but instead of Islamic motifs it represents Zoroastrian Parsee religious scenes (Zoroastrianism is one of the oldest living religions in the world).
Ottoman Empire silver had stricter rules in terms of hallmarking. It was in fact obligatory for gold and silver articles to be assayed and stamped by the Imperial Mint. Each part of a silver object crafted in Turkey should be marked with the Tughra mark (Sultan’s calligraphic monogram), and the Sah mark (silver fineness). The most common items are ewers, cups, spoon holders, glass holders and trays. Ottoman arms and armour also feature a very fine craftsmanship, embellished with inlaid gold and silver.
Ottoman silver produced in Egypt shows different marks (and is generally less valuable) while silverware made in the Balkans or Ottoman Greece is often unmarked and shows the influence of the Caucasian styles and techniques (like niello-work).