Drawer 46: Silver: Thai Hill Tribes

 

“The Singular Spirit”

Week 46/Drawer 46: November 15, 2017: “The Singular Spirit”

For years I have bought “hill tribe” silver and only knew it was a recognizable style of workmanship made in Northern Thailand. Now I know so much I fear I shall bore you with my focus on the six tribes who make pieces like this fish centerpiece.  Read on.  Some names will be familiar to you.

First of all, they work in a special silver which, at 97%, is in between sterling (92.5% silver content) and fine silver (100% silver). High silver content produces a softer metal which tarnishes less.

Second, there are six tribes who, over the past 200 years, emigrated mostly from China and Tibet through thick forests and mountainous terrain to the “Golden Triangle” where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet.

Third, the tribes retain their traditions in their clothing, their abundance of silver adornment, and their methods of making beads and jewelry. Their tools and processes are simple: silver ingots are flattened into sheets by pounding with a hammer.  Then they pound the sheets into a mold and something like this fish emerges.  They detail the piece—see fish scales—in their own signature style.

The most populous tribe at 300,000 is the Karen, originally from Myanmar. They live in stilt houses with their animals beneath.  They are expert elephant handlers (think logging and tourism); very friendly; and called the “long necks” due to the silver necklaces worn from collarbone to chin.

Next largest are the Hmong, many of whom were welcomed as refugees in the USA after the Vietnamese war. They came from the icy regions of Tibet and Mongolia; settled in Chiang Mai, a large and lovely city; and are identified by their traditional clothing of pleated skirts and black baggy pants, both with lots of embroidery.  Besides being silversmiths, they are dry rice farmers and may cultivate opium poppies.  They are very independent, preferring to live above 3000 feet.

The last tribe I’ll describe is the Mien (also called Yao) whose women are often photographed for their elaborate costumes and headpieces. They are considered the aristocrats of the region and have been making silver jewelry the longest. They are the only hill tribe with a written language and they use silver as their currency. They originate from Southern China, bringing their medieval religion, Taoism, with them, but many have converted to Christianity or Buddhism.

The remaining three are called Akha, Lahu and Lisu. All proud silversmiths.

The Drawer 46 necklace is full of trade beads, all with varying patina (read bumps and bruises from years of being traded), sterling silver and Naga shells (how I would love to tell you about the Naga tribe in the land-locked Himalayas who trade with shells and adorn themselves with shells, but no time for that story!) The fish centerpiece is a Karen Hill Tribe silver creation.

The necklace is 20“ long and the fish is 2.5“long.  Wear it with your silver earrings.  $99.

Trade beads are described in Drawers 12, 32 and 43.

 

Drawer 34: Cinnabar

“Illusionist”

My Chinese Apothecary Chest:   in 1994, it arrived via container to California from Hong Kong, where I discovered beading during my husband’s ex-pat assignment.   Serves as the repository for my beads.  Handcrafted.  It has 52 Drawers, mostly sorted by color.

2017 Challenge: Create a Necklace a Week, using only the Beads from one Drawer at a time. Voila!  52 Necklaces!

Week 34/Drawer 34: August 23, 2017: “Illusionist”

Cinnabar is an intriguing name. Sometimes I call it “Chinese Red”, especially if I am referring to furniture or antique wood items.  It is a terrific color for bead jewelry since it seems to flatter all skin tones.  I buy cinnabar whenever I see it.  The more typical beads are carved, but my favorites are these large smooth and very light beads from Drawer 34.

Cinnabar has been used in China since the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) when its name evolved from “red cinnamon”. Cinnabar is found in every mineral deposit that contains mercury.  The Chinese avoided the toxic effects of mercury by coating it with lacquer, thereby creating their famous lacquerware.  Today the toxic pigment is replaced with a resin-based polymer.  All the famous Renaissance painters  loved their scarlet pigment called vermillion made possible by mercury; today’s artists use the polymer version in their oils or acrylics.

In this necklace, I separated the cinnabar beads with some Kris rings I found in Bali.  Needless to say, they have an interesting history also:  they are one of three components in the dagger found in Bali (also Thailand and a few other places); between the wood or silver hilt and the iconic wavy blade sits the Kris ring, historically red rubies, but glass and brass in my version.

The oversize brass hook-and-eye clasp suits the large cinnabar beads which are 1” in diameter…but let me emphasize they are very light in weight. 20” long. Small cinnabar earrings included (or wear your own gold earrings).  $95.

Three Necklaces

“Chic Thrills” features a charming koi fish centerpiece I have had for a long time, waiting for the right mix of beads to show it off. Well, when nearly matching vintage orange Lucite (what plastic was called in the 1960’s) beads came into my possession, I had the answer. But what contrasting color to use? An odd green, don’t ask me why. I was so excited by the time I assembled the large faux pearl, the beetle wings and the small faux pearls, that I can’t remember how the colors all came together!
The fish is Asian in its origin as indicated by its large popping eyes and its elaborate tail display. It is a vintage piece perhaps made of resin with lots of nice carving marks on it.
The five beetle wings are iridescent and pointy and most unusual. A great conversation piece.
The necklace is almost 19″ long and the centerpiece dangle is 4″long.
Hammered gold-colored metal clasp, gold-filled wire connections in the dangle.
The price is $159 which includes earrings featuring green and orange beads with a beetle wing.

“A Smashing Good Time” is a classic sterling silver and turquoise necklace with a contemporary spin that the silver used here is a special basket weave pattern mastered by the Hill Tribes of northern Thailand. The clasp is also sterling silver by the Hill Tribes.
The turquoise chunky beads mix smooth and veined specimens of Chinese-mined turquoise stones.
The necklace is 23″ and the basket weave medallion is 2″ in diameter.
It is priced at $135.

“Flash Forward” is also color-forward: semi-precious amethyst beads matched with lime-dyed branch coral. The branch coral is bezeled with an electroplated gold bail for a shiny, blingy look. It is attached to the amethyst necklace and secured by two vermeil (gold plate over metal) beads. The necklace ends with more electroplated gold beads and a gold metal clasp.
Think of this piece as a fabulous good luck charm and wear it well!
The necklace measures 18″ and the centerpiece is 3″.
The price is $129.