After a decade of work on his labor of love, Kirkland’s Hamed Shirzad has finished a set of Persian jewelry which will soon be on display at the Bellevue Arts Museum.
Shirzad, 29, who is of Persian descent, spent years traveling to Iran to find gems cut during the Qajar and Pahlavi dynasties, spanning from the late 1700s to 1979, the year the Iranian Revolution toppled the last Shah. After securing the stones, he meticulously crafted the jewelry using historical techniques. After growing up in the U.S., Shirzad said the creation of the collection was intentional.
“I kind of connected to my heritage through my work and my art,” he said.
Shirzad’s father is a retired jeweler who taught him how to forge jewelry in the Persian tradition.
The diamonds are rose cut, an older jewelry technique that was used before modern laser cutting emerged. Even the now-common brilliant diamond cutting technique didn’t emerge until the 1920s. The emeralds he used are all cabochon, which were famous in those times, with some reaching back to the 1890s.
The search to find the jewels took him all across Iran, from bazaars to the National Bank of Iran. Most of the Persian jewelry he works with are diamonds, rubies and emeralds, representing the red, white and green of the Persian flag. The blue found in turquoise is also one of the national colors.
The exhibit at the Bellevue Arts Museum, which is scheduled to open between April 16 and the following Friday. It will showcase not only finished pieces, but unfinished pieces along with traditional tools — some dating back hundreds of years — to give viewers a sense of the work that goes into each.
Dating back to the Qajar Dynasty, most jewelry was handmade, up until more recently. Most are cast into wax and then cast into gold using those wax molds. These wax molds are hand-carved. After pouring the gold in, the filled wax cast is thrown into water and explodes.
The stones were cut with powderized diamonds and using cleaving techniques to take off parts of the diamond. Rose cuts generally are flat. This means these rose-cut diamonds aren’t the shiniest, and almost what are called salt and pepper cuts today. But given the difficulty cutting them, diamonds were in general reserved for royalty.
Shirzad said the display was in part conceived to show the pride he has in his Persian heritage, and to give people, especially those of Iranian-Persian heritage in the Seattle area, something to take their mind off the current moment marked by a pandemic, a struggling economy and international tension.
“It’s kind of nice that this is coming out at this moment,” he said. “Kind of to put a smile on people’s face, to remind people of a better time, to remind them of their pride and their joy of their heritage.”
Lane Eagles, associate curator at the Bellevue Arts Museum, said the pieces have a historical and traditional take on jewelry.
“They’re so lavish and they’re so rich, and even if you don’t know anything about jewelry history, they just have this sort of antique, historical quality to them,” she said.
The museum is operating at reduced capacity due to COVID-19 restrictions. The display will be in the museum’s general area, and does not require a paid ticket to see. However, those who wish to see the exhibit still need to pre-register online to reserve a time slot.