Our Handmade Silver Jewels: How They're Made

Handamde silver jewels

Handamde silver jewels

 

Our Miao silver jewels are made by hand from start to finish.

 

The unique techniques the Miao use to craft silver jewelry have been passed down for centuries. Making a single silver jewel involves more than 30 steps.

First, artisans carefully melt either pure or sterling silver in a stove made of charcoal.

 

A simple oil lamp and a copper blowtorch are used to bring the silver to temperatures over 1,000 degrees Celcius. This takes about 30 minutes.

Note: All of the handmade silver jewels on this site are made of 99.9% pure silver.

Making Silver Jewels: Engraving and Carving

 

Tiny silver pieces

Tiny silver pieces

Now it’s time to carve the silver pieces. A big slice of silver may be cut into dozens of smaller pieces with scissors. Sometimes the pieces are put into a mold to be pressed into the shapes required for silver jewels, and all of the pieces are eventually placed onto a rosin board to be engraved.

 


The black rosin board is heated to soften the surface. When the surface has nearly melted, silver pieces are easily placed on it. A few minutes later, when the rosin cools down, the silver pieces are stuck in the surface.

Creating Fine Threads For Your Silver Jewels

 

How do they work with such fine silver threads?

How do they work with such fine silver threads?

 

Fine, almost hair-like silver threads are routinely used to craft Miao silver jewels. These lines form intricate patterns that bring flowers, birds, and animals to life. Most Miao silversmiths have to stop working at the age of 50, because crafting such small silver jewels hurts their eyes!

To make silver threads, a steel sheet with 60 round holes is used. The size of each hole is different.
The steel board is placed onto a short, round wooden post.

 

The silversmith steps on the board, and uses a pair of pliers to pull silver through the holes. In no time, a silver thread that can be used for a multitude of silver jewels is created.

Finishing Touches For A Complete Silver Jewel

Almost done: Putting the pieces together

Almost done: Putting the pieces together

When all of the silver pieces are finished, it’s time to solder them together. Large silver jewels, like a silver headdress with 203 different pieces, can take days to complete.

After soldering, artisans will wash the jewelry in phosphoric acid to remove any stains and oxidation.

These techniques are only passed down from father to son in Miao families. Many boys start learning how to make silver jewelry as early as 12 or 13 years old. It takes at least 7 to 8 years to learn all of the required skills, and a lifetime to master them.

The Miao silver jewelry techniques are so unique, it is almost impossible for anybody to duplicate their jewels. In 2006, their handmade silver jewels were listed as one of the Intangible Cultural Heritages of China.

 

Photo Gallery (click to enlarge each photo)