Hill Tribe Silver Production
Traditionally silver jewellery has been used as a store of wealth and as a means of adornment and beautification for the Hill Tribes. Silver jewellery proudly worn enhances their financial security, signifies wealth, status and spirituality within the tribe.
The Hill Tribe’s still use some silver in place of paper money occasionally, preferring something they consider retains its true value. On special occasions such as a birth or marriage silver is used for gifts and dowries. Each detailed component is painstakingly created by hand from 99.9% silver ingots. The ingots are flattened into sheets, which is then cut, shaped, moulded, soldered and stamped into the finished item.
Each piece is totally unique due to the handcrafted nature. No two beads, pendant or ring is exactly the same, just shinning out with stunningly beautiful handmade characteristics.
The silver, being soft and can be worked with surprising speed due to the skills of craftsmanship and the purity of the silver. Sterling silver in comparison is 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper, which gives it a harder finish, only enabled to work by machine rather than hand tools. The purity of the Hill Tribe silver means it will tarnish less quickly than sterling and will need less regular polishing to retain its appeal.
The hand worked Hill Tribe 99.9% silver has a look, weight and feel all its own and offers the wearer an intimate connection directly back to the silversmith who produced each item.
The inspiration for all the designs of the jewellery comes from nature. The Karen people live close to the natural world working as subsistence farmers and have a very spiritual connection with their land.
The village is constantly producing new designs and prototypes for future products. The silversmiths here are extremely creative and enjoy the challenge of working in partnership with Luna Tree Jewellery on new pieces, by sharing ideas we can collectively establish innovation and fresh exciting products with every order placed.
The Luna Tree Jewellery Village
Huay Dtom (pronounced Hoy Tum) situated in Lampang Province of Northern Thailand, South East of Chiang Mai is the village which produces all the silver for Luna Tree Jewellery. The residents of Huay Dtom are Karen Hill Tribe people which form the largest Hill Tribe group of Thailand. The village is large and well established, with approximately 200 families residing there. About half of the families are involved with silver production and each family is expert in one style of design each; one family will produce only flower designs, another will do fish designs etc.
The women of Huay Dtom are also prolific weavers, producing the finest quality cloth on simple back strap looms to make their traditional clothing with, and more recently, other items such as scarves, bags etc which are sold within the markets and bazaars of Chiang Mai.
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All the children of Huay Dtom attend school within the village between the ages of 7-15. The school was built by the Thai government about twenty years ago and the resources here are all government funded. If the children wish to continue their studies after school leaving age they have to pay fees and travel away from the village. The income generated from silver production can help them to achieve this.
Most of the village can speak Thai fluently but prefer to speak their traditional Karen dialect within the village. The Karen are very proud of their culture and heritage and despite their assimilation into Thai society over the last few centuries they continue to hold on to their way of life against the odds.
Huay Dtom produces three rice harvest’s a year and has an irrigation system in place to maintain the rice crops. They also grow soya, maize, corn, squash, salad crops and fruits such as banana and lychee. Wild crops are also harvested such as seasonal mushroom. Surplus stock from this subsistence farming is sold with in the markets in nearby towns.
The Silver Production Process
When an order is placed the raw silver ingots are purchased and taken to the village Huay Dtom. Depending on what is ordered at any time, the work is then divided out amongst the producers.
Farrar (right), is the matriarch of one such producer family, (Her family make all the fish designs.) She is invaluable in organising the other workers and distributing the correct amount of silver to them. Farrar is 47 years old and a mother to 9 children, with the older ones all involved with the family silver business.
The silver is rolled out in a machine similar to a mangle (left) which flattens the silver into strips at the correct thickness to be worked.
This is then cut into smaller pieces or the shape of the design cut out directly with a stamp cutter (right).
The blanks are then ready to be worked by the skilled artisans who bring life and form to the silver components.
Log stumps which have indents the perfect size for each item worked are used as work stations for the producers along with simple tools and hammers which create the 3 dimensional form of the silver.
Some designs are cut out with scissors and then bent into shape using pliers.
The detail is skilfully hammered into each piece with surprising speed and dexterity. The training to become a silver worker can take many months to perfect and to ensure the high quality of workmanship needed to create the finished pieces.
Some designs are soldered together to create totally 3 dimensional beads. The fixings such as rings on the pendants and earrings so they can be hung on necklaces and earring hooks etc are soldered by hand onto each finished piece.
All Luna Tree Jewellery items weighing over 7.78g's are Hallmarked in accordance with Trading Standards and the Hallmarking act of 1973. The hallmarked items bear three stamps; LTJ, for Luna Tree Jewellery, 999, which relates to the 99.9% purity of the silver and an anchor symbol, which is the mark of the Birmingham Assay office which carries out all sample purity testing & Hallmarking for Luna Tree Jewellery.
Hallmarking has taken place in Birmingham since 1773 and hallmarks all types of precious metals. Any items of a mixed metal content, such as an earring which has a sterling silver hook, will be hallmarked with the lowest silver purity. For sterling silver this is 925.
Any stockist wishing to have items less than 7.78g hallmarked should contact Luna Tree Jewellery to discuss the additional costs this will incur.