In 1993-4, Don and I lived in Hong Kong. I discovered ethnic beads at the fabulous bazaars located in alleys and byways and became enamored of the giant orange and yellow beads that were described as those worn by Tibetan nomads. I asked Don to take me to Tibet on one of his business trips to Beijing. Ha! Impossible since it is located on a 5000’ high plateau in distant southwest China.
So I convinced him to have an adventure travel vacation in Tibet. Be informed adventure travel translates as difficult travel, as in one-star or no-star accommodations, toilets that range from pots under the bed to blackened porcelain with no seat, mattresses that feel like plywood, walking a lot, crossing the Himalayan mountains with a view of Everest in a jitney without any shock absorbers…a trip to Katmandu, Nepal, that took 24 hours including the overnight accommodations described above.
The pleasures of adventure travel are close-ups of the native population, interesting food, cultural immersion, different religions. And beads. No bead shops, just go to the village square and the traders find you. Whew. The first lesson is to push away the crowds, establish some control, and patiently look, point, and bargain. What wild memories!
These Gau boxes were my most unusual finds! Today’s necklace features an excellent specimen. I paid $100 for it and it is $490 on Etsy as I looked for one today. As you know, I don’t mark up the original price I paid. No need to, since you, my dear readers, are looking for an interesting necklace, not a collector’s item for a display case.
Gau (sometimes Gao) boxes are antiques today, less than 30 years after our first visit. We returned again in the late 90’s and the change was sad—China had infiltrated Han Chinese into Tibet in a massive relocation program to dilute Tibetan culture. As a result, many Tibetans have crossed the mountains into Nepal where they are respected in their enclaves
These boxes contain Buddhist paper prayers and relics folded into the box, and worn around the neck, near one’s heart, by Tibetan nomads or travelers. It also is an amulet to ward off negative energy and attract blessings (just like those fluttering strings of flags placed in the mountains). Like any antique, they have patina, the fancy word for wear marks and nicks over time.
This necklace is 24” from clasp to bottom of box which is 2.5” diameter and 5/8” thick. The clasp is hammered pewter. The necklace weighs 7.7 ounces. The set is $195.
The beads are dyed coral shell pearls. These pearls are made from the lining of oyster shells, ground, shaped, dyed, and coated with a lustrous shine. They do not lose color or shine due to sweat or perfume. I also like them because they come in large sizes for a reasonable price.
At the beginning and end of the necklace and in the earrings are other Tibetan beads with silver decorative endcaps. The beads in those endcaps and the center of the Gao Box are the same orange beads I first saw in Hong Kong…seems they come in all sizes.
These are two other Gau Boxes I bought on that trip. They are shaped like shrines which is another use of the Gau Box. The large one is a wonderful speciman with many cultural icons carved in the silver and a wonderful polychromed deity in the window.
The small one is so old the silver plate wore off to its copper base.
A Max Moment
I dare not disappoint Max’s followers. Here he is trying to dismember his stuffed toy, but his smart Mom bought him a leather toy and it takes a really long time for him to destroy it. Approaching 28 months.
Postscript: I imagine there are prayers and relics still in these boxes but I am afraid of ruining them if I attempt to open/close the boxes, so I don’t. I just imagine. I encourage readers to use their imagination also.