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Hill Tribe Silver Pendants: Thai Karen Flower, Butterfly, Spiral Designs & More for Artisan Jewelry Necklaces

Updated on March 8, 2011
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With customers worldwide, Chris Telden has designed and sold jewelry under the name "Ornatia" with a focus on organic, unisex style.

Buy Handcrafted Thai Silver Pendants, Dangles and Charms

Here you can not only buy Thai Karen Hill Tribe silver pendants, but also learn about Hilltribe silverwork.  See flower pendants, butterfly designs, leaf pendant designs, animal and fish, seashells, and abstract and geometrical shapes with carvings.

These naturalistic fine silver pendants for jewelry making are handcrafted by incredibly skilled artisans in rural Thailand.

What is Thai Karen Hill Tribe Silver?

Hill Tribe silver pendants are part of an extensive line of jewelry components handcrafted by the Karen tribe from rural northern Thailand as part of a decades-long cottage industry.

The different finishes used on the silver pendants include smooth, textured, white silver, and oxidized or antiqued. Hill Tribe silver is recognizable by the rustic, deceptively primitive and "simple" designs - in which the extraordinary skill in craftsmanship is evident - in geometric or naturalistic shapes and distinctive texturing techniques, such as weaving.

Pendent sizes vary from small, bead-sized charms to medium to large pendants of two or more inches in diameter.

Fine Silver, Not Sterling Silver

Karen Hill Tribe silver distinguishes itself as fine silver, made of (depending on its origin) 95 percent to 99 percent silver - which is essentially pure silver.

Fine silver has certain advantages over sterling silver, which is generally only 92.5 percent silver.

While sterling silver is harder and more durable, fine silver is softer, thus easier to work by hand - at least, for skilled artisans - and when it's worn regularly, oxidizes (tarnishes) less than sterling, which contains significantly more base metal. Thus, while more delicate than sterling silver, it is easier to clean.

The Hill Tribes of Thailand are known for wearing their silver jewelry proudly and prominently, the pieces serving as marks of social status.

Who are the Hill Tribe Peoples from Thailand?

The hill tribe peoples are an ethnic minority in Thailand. According to The Commercialized Crafts of Thailand: Hill Tribes and the Lowland Villages, with the establishment of the Tribal Research Institute in the 1960s came the naming of six official hill tribes. These are the Karen, Hmong, Mien, Lahu, Lisu, and Akha. The Karen are also called Karieng or Yang and are the largest of the six hill tribes of Thailand.

Most tribal members live as subsistence farmers due west of the Chiangmai and Mae Hong Son province, in northern Thailand. Other ethnically diverse hill tribes live in the hills that spread out where the Yangtze River, the Mekong River and the Salween river meet, in China and Burma.

Living in the hills means living in a semi-nomadic fashion, settling for about 7 years at a time, through the dry season (which is very dry) and wet season (which is very wet).

The hill tribe people are known to maintain the centuries-old tradition of their rudimentary, yet culturally rich lifestyle in the face of the extreme modernity of the rest of the country - which makes the Thai Hill Tribes a noted tourist attraction.

More about the Thai Karen Hill Tribe can be found in the book, Living at the Edge of Thai Society: the Karen in the Highlands of Northern Thailand.

Hill Tribe Silver Leaf Pendants

Silver leaf pendants are practically a trademark of the Karen silversmiths from Thailand. Representations of nature, from animals and insects to leaves and flowers, as well as geometrical patterns and forms, are some of the most common themes in the designs.

Leaf pendants, each of them handcrafted and possessed of individual variations that exquisitely reflect their organic nature, are beautiful options for artisan pendants that are feminine without being "girly-girl."

Note the sizes on these pendants when you view the listings at eBay. Sizes typically vary from cute charm size to large and chunky.

Books about Karen Hill Tribe in Thailand

By What Process are Thai Silver Pendants and Other Jewelry Components Made?

To make these pendants, Thai silversmiths hammer silver ingots to create silver sheet. The sheet is sawn by hand.

Elements of the pendants are poured into pre-crafted molds or hammered on both sides with the aid of molds of black tar, drawn through holes for shaping, and chased (carved).

The application of heat and solder enables small, styled components to be affixed to the larger components.

In some styles, the silver is oxidized to darken it and polished to create a contrast between the carved areas and the smooth or textured/hammered raised areas. In others, the silver is left shiny.

Sources:

  • Firemountaingems.com
  • Hilltribesilveronline.com
  • eBay seller karencottage_2004

Thai Karen silver often features designs of patterns such as spirals and eyes, which have symbolic significance for the individual tribes.

See the author's disclosure statement regarding compensation for this article.

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