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Tibetan Silver Jewelry

For Tibetans, jewelry plays an important, traditional role in dress, spirituality, and life.  Tibet is a Buddhist nation, which is reflected strongly in its jewelry.  Tibetans use jewelry as a means to keep them close to deities. 

Jewelry protects as well, having amulet properties.  In contrast with India, where a piece of jewelry is valued for the preciousness of the metals and gems that go into making it, Tibetans value their jewelry based on its color, size and symbolism. 

Tibetan silver jewelry has a rustic, almost unfinished look to it.  In contrast with the perfectly symmetrical and flawless appearance of, say Italian silver jewelry, Tibetan silver pieces are individually made in a process that usually involves hammering and chiseling.  No one will ever confuse Tibetan jewelry as having been machine mass produced, and herein lies its simple beauty!  Tibetan jewelry, including silver and gold jewelry, also tends to be much larger in size than the jewelry made in most other countries and regions. 

As for materials, Tibetan jewelry is usually made of copper or silver, although gold jewelry is also produced.  Tibetan jewelry also makes extensive use of gemstones.  Of course, turquoise and coral are favorites, but rubies, sapphires, agates, coral, amber, copal, carnelian, garnet, lapis lazuli, amethyst, and jade are also used.  Yak bone is also a popular material for jewelry-making.

Symbolism in Tibetan Jewelry

Many pieces have Sanskrit inscriptions of a religious symbolic nature. 

These are the most common symbolic forms that you will definitely see in Tibetan jewelry:

  • Om.  The om symbol is the sound of the universe.  It has great significance to Buddhists and Hindus.  A Tibetan pendant with the om symbol is shown to the right.

  • Mantras. The most common mantra is “Om Mani Padme Hum,” which means “The Jewel Lotus Flower Within the Heart.”  When chanted, this ancient harmony connects us to the tune of the universe. 

  • Auspicious Symbols.  There are eight auspicious symbols in Tibetan thought.  These symbols serve a pedagogical function, teaching Buddhist principles to the people in a form that is easily remembered.

    The auspicious symbols are as follows:

    • Conch shell: the sound of the sacred path (Dharma)

    • Dual fish: spiritual abundance

    • Interwoven knot: representing the eternity of Lord Buddha’s teachings

    • Lotus flower: transformation of life into pure spirit

    • Treasure bowl: symbolizes spiritual jewels

    • Umbrella: protection from the corruption of personal desire

    • Victory Emblem: a banner representing spiritual attainment

    • Wheel of Dharma: the stillness of the soul capable of watching the world while remaining unaffected by it

Tibetan Healing Bracelets

Jewelry is also believed to be capable of healing the body and soul by balancing the body’s energy.  Particularly common are handcrafted healing bracelets made of copper, nickel and brass. 

Dzi beads (God beads)

Tibet is famous for its ancient beads, called Dzi beads.  Dzi beads have amulet properties, as they are believed to be capable of driving away evil spirits, protecting against natural catastrophes, increase one’s energy, bring good reputation to oneself, and promote decency.  Dzi beads have been dated back to 1000 B.C. and were once referred to as God Beads.  The beads exist in different shapes and motifs, each serving a different spiritual function. 

Ghau (Gao) Boxes

Tibetans often wear a prayer box, known as Ghau (or Gau or Gao).  These prayer boxes are amulets (protectors), and are usually made of silver.  They are highly ornate in pattern and design, and usually are embedded with gemstones.  The Ghau is worn as a necklace, with the box hanging at heart-length.  Inside the box is placed a scroll prepared by a Buddhist priest.  The scroll contains a mantra, prayer, image of Buddha, or sacred symbol.  In place of a scroll, a Tibetan might place a gemstone with protective powers or medicinal herbs in the box. 

Silver Work Traditions in Tibet

The Tibetans have been skilled silversmiths for many hundreds of years.  Silver containers have been found in temples that date back to 600 AD.  Ancient metal work exhibiting advanced skills have been also uncovered, usually in the form of Buddhist sculptures.  Documents in China from the 7th Century write in praise of Tibetan silversmiths and goldsmiths, who were believed to be one of the wonders of the medieval world.  It

is not clear where these skills came from or whether they originated from within the Tibetan region.  It is know that Tibet has long been subjected to influences from foreigners. It was a stop on the famed Silk Routes that ran from the Mediterranean to China.  Trading is known to have taken place between Tibet an such nations as Turkey, Iran, India, China, and all regions of Central Asia.  It is possible that silver and gold workers in Tibet had associations with metal workers from other regions. 

Made in Nepal

A final point.  A lot of the sterling silver Tibetan jewelry now on the market is actually from the neighboring region of Nepal.  Under Chinese rule, gaining access to Tibet is very difficult.  The Nepalese have many similar traditions and have been producing “Tebetan-style” jewelry for many years. 



Index Of Articles

"Silver 101"
"Sources of Silver"

"Sterling Silver Defined'"
"Silver Standards"

"Silver Marks and Hallmarks"

"Silver Testing Kits"

"The Silversmith"
"Silver Allergies"

Plating & Treatments

"Silver Plated Jewelry"
"Gold Vermeil Jewelry"
"Rhodium Plated Sterling"
"Antiqued Silver"

Fake Silver Jewelry

"Alpaca Silver Jewelry"
"German Silver Jewelry"

Silver Jewelry Styles

"Bali Silver"
"Indian Silver"
"Thai Hill Tribe Silver"
"Tibetan Silver"
"Turkish Silver"

Silver Allergies

"Silver/Nickel Sensitivities"
"Hypoallergenic Jewelry"

Recent Developments

"Argentium® Sterling Silver"

"Silver PMC®"

"The Origins of Tarnish"

"Tarnish Removal"

"Firescale (Firestain)"

"Proper Silver Storage"

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