Our Hill Tribe silver products all come from the Karen tribe in northern Thailand. This tribe is among one of the largest main tribes in this region, where they continue the silver smith tradition. Before the Karen people established this successful means of income, most of the community participated in growing opium. This was the largest cash crop from the 1920s until the late 1960s. This method of farming caused damage to the lands and was detrimental to the society. Because of the negative impact, others living in Thailand as well as the Thai government disapproved of this way of life. It was in 1969 that Thai King Bhumibol initiated the “Royal Project.” He visited the Karen tribes and discovered the people’s ability to create silver jewelry. Most people wore silver jewelry as a symbol of wealth, but His Majesty enlisted the help of professional jewelry makers to teach all the people a better means at making a living. This first generation of silver smiths passed down their new knowledge to the next generation and so on, and today the Hill Tribe silver industry is very successful.
Almost all of the work is done by hand, including the holes which are punched out using a sharp tool and a hammer. Silver products are made in an assembly-line form. First, silver bars are melted down with a torch—no furnaces are used. The molten silver is then poured into molds to form thin rods. These rods are rolled into long strips using roller presses mostly operated by hand. The silver is then ready to be shaped and textured.
This silver may be higher in price but it’s worth it. The Karen use silver that is anywhere between 95 and 99% pure, compared to sterling silver which is only 92.5% pure. Basically the only thing that keeps their silver from being completely pure is the solder used to join two parts of silver together in jewelry.
We hope you cherish your Hill Tribe silver because we are proud to carry it. The Karen tribe takes pride in their silver, since it is part of their culture and the hand-made process makes these pieces truly special and unique, and helps ensure the Karen tribe people continue to make a living. Our chief operating officer got the chance to travel to Thailand and was fortunate enough to spend some time with the Karen Hill Tribe in a recent buying trip. He brought back some amazing pictures that we are happy to share with you to show you where your beads come from! It’s a truly eye-opening experience to learn the journey of your bead.
Information Source: Thailand Travel.