Пафте – Pafte

Jewelry and adornment are as old as humanity, and our species has been very imaginative in creating unique, beautiful and sometimes bizarre ways to enhance our appearance. Often jewelry can be a cultural identifier, such as the neck rings of Padaung women, or the nose piercings of the Indian subcontinent. For the Balkan peninsula, one cultural identifier would have to be pafte, a piece of jewelry that is both beautiful and functional.

Pafte are often assumed to be yet another borrowing from Ottoman fashion, but excavations of early Slavic settlements have shown that similar paired buckles and clasps existed well before the domination of the Balkans by the Turks. They were found in similar forms in Celtic, Roman and Byzantine metalwork. The decorative elements and certain methods of production that persisted into the nineteenth century, however, are undeniably Levantine in form.


Pafte on a postage stamp, Serbia 2015

The term pafte designates a type of buckle consisting of at least two portions, that clasp together with a simple hook and ring closure. They are always made of metal, although can have embellishments of many other materials. Among the Balkan peoples, they are called by a variety of names: Greek porpes or pafti (πόρπες, παφτη); Bulgarian & Macedonian čapraz, pafti; Albanian kapëset; Turkish tokalar. The Serbs call them pafte or pavte (in those dialects that abhor the phoneme f), as well as čapraz, čopràzi,

In Eastern Serbia. Specific types include badem pafte (almond shaped);  kukaste, or badem sa kukama (hooked almond, aka paisley); pijevac pafte or ćemer (“rooster” type, due to their crest-like central protrusion);  čember (circular) or okaste (eye-like);  bujuk or velike pafte (large pafte).  The buckles were worn with a narrow sash, called litar or pâs, overtop the wider woolen pojas or tkanica. Sometimes, they were attached to one of several types of metal belts called kolan, ežder, okovanik, ćemer. They were worn exclusively by women, and could be functional (i.e. keeping clothing bound or closed) or decorative.

4 paintings
Pafte in works of art, L to R: Spiridon Špiro Bocarić, Woman in costume from Central Bosnia; Uroš Predić, At the Spring (Na Studencu); Đorđe Krstić, Beneath the Apple Tree (Pod Jabukom); Jaroslav Čermak, Princess Milena of Montenegro.

The craftsmen who made them were called kujundžije. This comes from the Serbian root verb kovati, (imperative kuj, third person kuje), to smith or to shape metal. The Serbian suffix “-džija” (-džije, plural) is adapted from the Turkish suffix “-çi”; both have the meaning of designating an occupation or tradesperson in either language. For example, already mentioned on this blog at length were the abadžije (tailors), but there were also samardžije (saddlers), asurdžije (weavers of reed mats), simidžije (bakers of simit, round sesame breads), bojadžije (dyers), and many others.


Mane Kujundzija
Mane Kujundžija in his shop, from the film, Zona Zamfirova (2002)) Vojin Ćetković plays Mane, and Sloboda Micalović plays Vaska.

During the Ottoman centuries, in most urban settings the trade was limited, by law, to muslims. Anyone who has visited Sarajevo’s Baš-Čarsija has seen this. Albanians, both Christian and Muslim, took to the trade during Ottoman times.  Sephardic Jews, arriving in the Balkans after 1492, also were allowed to practice the trade.  As Serbs began to re-inhabit their own cities, more and more of them took on the trade. In some places, such as Prizren, Vranje, and Niš, Serbs were never restricted from practicing this trade. After Serbia’s liberation, Pirot also became a major centre for the production of pafte. Perhaps the best known kujundžija in Serbian literature is Mane, the male protagonist in Stevan Sremac’s “Zona Zamfirova”. An ambitious young man, Mane opens a tiny shop in the čaršija, or main street, of Niš. Soon, he becomes successful enough to open a proper workshop and take on apprentices. Sremac describes Mane’s shop:


“Некада у оном малом дућанчету свом израђивао је само просто прстење, белензуке, звонца и меденице, и оправљао батаљене муштикле и олупане табакере; а сада, у овом другом, израђује и боље и скупље ствари, као: минђуше, зарфове, пафте, укоснице, ланчеве за сахате и муштикле и табакере од сребра и срме; има и старих грчких, римских и српских новаца — бави се нумизматиком, и стога чак држи и археолошки лист „Старинар“. “


“Nekada u onom malom dućančetu svom izrađivao je samo prosto prstenje, belenzuke, zvonca i medenice, i opravljao bataljene muštikle i olupane tabakere; a sada, u ovom drugom, izrađuje i bolje i skuplje stvari, kao: minđuše, zarfove, pafte, ukosnice, lančeve za sahate i muštikle i tabakere od srebra i srme; ima i starih grčkih, rimskih i srpskih novaca – bavi se numizmatikom, i stoga čak i drži arheološki list “Starinar”.”


”In his tiny shop he once made simple rings, bangles, small bells and cowbells, and repaired discarded cigarette holders and dented tobacco cases; but now, in this second shop, he also makes better and more expensive wares, such as: earrings, coffee cup holders, belt buckles, hair pins, watch chains, cigarette holders and tobacco cases of solid and wire silver; he collects ancient Greek, Roman and medieval Serbian coins – numismatics has become a hobby for him, and he even stocks the archeological journal ‘Starinar’ [Antiquities Collector] “

(from Zona Zamfirova, S. Sremac)


20170802_125436In Serbian tradition, all trades had a patron saint, or esnafska slava. For kujundžije, this is St. Elijah, Sv. Ilija, and Sts. Constantine and Helena,  Sv. Konstantin i Jelena. The former is a logical choice, as St. Elijah (whose feast day is in summer) is associated with fire, thunder and lightning. With the rise of Christianity, he took on many of the attributes of the pagan Slavic deity Perun, who created lightning by striking his anvil; hence, an appropriate patron for a trade that works with fire and metal. The second has less to do with the nature of the trade, but rather because of the connection of this trade with the Aromani or Cincari of Serbia, who were quite often coppersmiths or tinsmiths. Having migrated from Greek Epirus, Macedonia and Thrace, where Sts. Constantine and Helena are particularly revered, they brought their customary patronage with them.

Pijevac pafte, or ćemer, with metal belt – ežder. Zemaljski Muzej, Sarajevo.

In order to make pafte, the kujundžije used a variety of metals: pure or alloyed silver (srebro); brass or bronze (bronza, tuč, mesing); tin (kalaj), copper (bakar); and, much later, nickel or nickel plate (niklovane). Gold was only used to gild or embellish pafte (pozlata), and niello, an amalgam of silver, copper, and lead sulphides, was used as filler or inlay to make relief or engravings stand out.

Badem pafte, brass, from vicinity of Belgrade, c. 1900.

Several methods were employed to make pafte. They could be poured and molded (livenje). Often this was a starting step by which blanks were produced for use in other methods. Cold hammering or Repoussé ( iskucavanje po kalupu) was the predominant technique. The pafte were hammered from the reverse side using wooden carved molds, creating low-relief decoration. They could also be made by filigree, an art that reached a height during the reigns of brother-kings Milutin and Dragutin in the 14th century. The latter especially was an important patron of the arts, and invited masters of metalwork and other artistry to come to Serbia and establish workshops for the advancement of these crafts in his land. Filigree is time consuming, involving drawing out thin silver wires that were then twisted and bent to fill in a plain metal mold, reminiscent of a cookie cutter.

Pafte with dragon motif, gilded silver, Niš, Serbia. Late 19th – early 20th Century.

Once pafte were made, they were burnished and polished, and prepared for additional ornamentation. One very old technique was the fusing or welding of tiny spheres of metal to the surface of jewelry. This technique, called granulation (granulacija, zrničenje) was introduced to Serbia via Byzantium, although it was known in prehistoric times. Engraving and damascening (gravura, rezba) involved scratching or cutting additional details into the surface. Like the repousse method, designs are usually botanical, sometimes mythological, and sometimes bearing religious symbols. Often the engraved areas were filled with niello, to make them dark and more pronounced. Inlay (umetanje) was widely practiced, with semiprecious stones, mother of pearl (sedef), horn (rog), bone (kost), coral (koralj) or enamel (emajla). The most widespread ornamentation technique, however, was gilding or silvering (pozlaćivanje, srebrenje)

Čember pafte, silver and niello, Pirot, c. 1910.
Badem pafte, with pomegranate motif. Brass, Pirot c. 1900.

Fire gilding, involved coating with mercury, heating to sublimate it, and quickly placing gold leaf on it. Mercury nitrate solution was somewhat safer, and acted to help hold the gilding by the micro-corrosion on the surface of the metal caused by the nitric acid that forms. The most widely used method did not employ mercury compounds (these were costly and difficult to obtain, in any case) but used beeswax, verdigris, and saltpeter, with applied heat and hand burnishing. Cold gilding most widely used to gild highlights or details on silver surfaces. A solution of gold in acid was prepared, applied to the surface and then burnished with ash, using a piece of soft leather, cork, or heavy wool cloth. It was safer and faster, but less durable.

Small pafte with an unusual and whimsical strawberry motif. Plants and birds are common on pafte. From the urban costume of Serbian women in Sarajevo, late 19th century.
Detail of the strawberry motif from the Sarajevo pafte. Among pafte with plant or botanical motifs, this one is charming because it is so specific and recognizable. The word for strawberry, Jagoda, also serves as a female name, and it may be a reference to the wearer.

Pafte were, in folk belief, apotropaic objects; that is, they served a protective function to the wearer. They are not quite amulets, which endow the wearer with certain powers, but as defensive objects, which repel evil. Unlike amulets, which can be worn secretly tucked or sewn into clothing, pafte were meant to distract the gaze of evil eyes. As such, they needed to be worn highly visibly, drawing attention to the pafte, which – as a pair of unblinking, ever-staring eyes – would repel the evil eye or spells connected with it. In directing the gaze away from the wearer’s own eyes, they were believed to be protective.  Similar apotropaics are found in folk embroidery, weaving, carving and stonework.

Pafte with bird motif and botanical border design, Brass. Provenance uncertain – obtained from Knjaževac but likely produced in Pirot or Niš, Serbia. Early 20th century.


The magical power of pafte may lie in their paired shape, but also in their material. They were most often made of silver or a silver alloy. Other silver objects were considered protective in folk ritual, too. These included folding knives (britve) and small mirrors (ogledalca), which were worn as pendants around the neck or suspended from a belt, placed under the pillows of infants, under the beds of women in labour or newlyweds, etc. Even the mention of silver in protective magic, bajanje, was thought to be powerful; many of the spells against curses (basme protiv uroka) end with the words “da bude čisto ka’ čisto srebro” – “let it be clean as pure silver”. Silver, in Serbian folk belief, is associated with daytime, with light, with purity. It is shiny and sturdy, and in the minds of our ancestors this gave it power over darkness, over evil, over the unclean. Silver and milk were often used together in folk medicine, eg. silver coins either as talismans or allowed to steep in milk or wine; scrapings of silver from a cross or folding knife, suspended in milk, were consumed as medicines. This ancient custom stuck because it often worked. Indeed, centuries later, medicine would elucidate that colloidal silver had effective antibacterial, antifungal and even antiviral properties,

Single buckle of pafte with bird motif and Byzantine eagles. The latter links it to Aromani craftsmen, Prizren, late 19th century.

That pafte were worn in old medieval costume, we have evidence in frescoes and also in the epic folk poems. In Zidanje Ravanice (The Building  of Ravanica Monastery), Princess Milica’s royal regalia is described:


Al’ pošeta gospođa Milica,

Lako šeta po carskom divanu,

Na njojzi je do devet ćemera,

Ispod grla do devet đerdana,

A na glavi devet perišana,

Povrh toga kruna pozlaćena

A u njojzi tri kamena draga,

Sjaje noćom, kako daljom sunce…


But then fleetly came Lady Milica

Treading lightly all throughout the palace

Round her waist are girded nine silver belts

‘Neath her throat nine necklaces of pure gold

On her head nine gilded feathers glitter

And atop them rests a crown of pure gold

In the crown shone three most precious jewels

E’en in darkness shining as if sunlight…


Single buckle of pafte with bird and rose garden (đul bašta) motif, Vranje, Serbia. Likely early 20th or late 19th century.

Pafte were also a part of urban costume, but in folk costume they were generally worn on festive occasions, and were always a part of bridal costume and the wedding customs. Pafte and other jewelry were frequently gifts from the groom’s family to the bride to be on the occasion of engagement. In wedding songs from Timok region in eastern Serbia we encounter verses such as:


Ljilju, mala momo, ajde da vidimo

Ljilju, mala momo, Kako dilber nose

Ljilju, mala momo, Kako đuzel nose

Ljilju, mala momo, Dvoje-troje pafte

Ljilju, mala momo, Dvoje pozlaćene

Ljilju, mala momo, Dvoje nezlaćene


LJilju, young maiden, let us see

LJilju, young maiden, how they proudly wear,

LJilju, young maiden, how they prettily wear

LJilju, young maiden, two or three pafte

LJilju, young maiden, two of them gilded

LJilju, young maiden, two not gilded


Pafte in folk songs are an allegory for a young woman’s body. Just as a bracelet might be a reference to her hands, or a necklace to her neck and breasts, they were a veiled way to express the sensual in song:


Pavta mi padne od tanku snagu

Koj će mi pavtu s’g najde?

Najde ju, najde toj ludo mlado

Nanćele, da l’ će ju s’g dade?

Daće ju, daće, pa kuda ide!

Nanćele, njegova da budem!


My pafte have fallen from my slim body,

Who will now find my pafte for me?

He found them, he found them my madcap youth

Oh mother, will he return them?

He’ll give them to you, no matter what!

Oh mother, I want to be his.


Much of what has been said here about the production, use and significance of pafte is true not only for Serbian culture, but also for the other Balkan cultures. They are a distinct and unifying cultural symbol of the Balkan peoples.

Contemporary made pafte, aluminum with nickel plating, produced from a museum piece kept at the ethnographic museum in Sofia, Bulgaria. Purchased 2006.


For further Reading:


Darmanović, Mina, and Mirjana Menković. Etnografsko Nasleđe Kosova I Metohije: Odevanje i Tekstil iz Zbirki Muzeja u Prištini i Etnografskog Muzeja u Beogradu = The Ethnographic Heritage of Kosovo and Metohija: Clothing Textiles from the Collection of the Museum in Priština and the Ethnographic Museum in Belgrade. Beograd: Etnografski Muzej, 2013. Print.


Filipović, Milenko S., and E. A. Hammel. Cincari, in Among the People: Selected Writing of Milenko S. Filipović. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan, 1982. Print.


S.Kostić, Amajlije u narodnim verovanjima u Istočnoj Srbiji, Glasnik Etnografskog muzeja, Beograd, 1996., Knjiga 60, str.87.


Krstić, Dejan. Veciti Krug: Pojasevi Etnoloske Zbirke Narodnog Muzeja U Zajecaru. Zajecar: Narodni Muzej, 2011. Print.


Sremac, Stevan. Zona Zamfirova. Beograd: Minerva, 1968. Print.


Stevanov, Vladimir. Zidanje Ravanice, in Kosovska Legenda: Srpske Junačke Pesme. Novi Sad: Dnevnik, 1989. N. pag. Print.


Živković, Gordana, M.D. Zaštitna Uloga Srebra u Narodnoj Medicini Timočke Krajine. Timočki Medicinski Glasnik. Srpsko Lekarsko Drustvo, 20 May 2009. Web. 05 Aug. 2017.


Živković, Gordana M.D. Urok i basme protiv uroka u Timočkoj Krajini, Za zdravlje – iz Istorije narodne medicine i zdravstvene kulture, Bor, 2000., str. 224.