The majority of jewelry in our collection, is from the ethnic minority tribe Miao in China.
With a population of almost 9 million people, this tribe makes one of the largest minority groups in China. After immigration in a long history, today they live mainly in Guizhou, Yunnan, Hunan, Hubei, Hanain and the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Prefecture. They are divided into several branches, such as Black Hmong, White Hmong, Striped Hmong, etc.
The Miao people are very skilled at handicrafts, such as embroidering, weaving, paper-cutting, batik and jewel casting. The Miao embroidery and silver jewelry are delicate and beautiful.
The Miao ethnic group’s silver ornaments are second to none, both in terms of quantity and variety. Miao women’s festive attire includes a variety of silver decorations, weighing as much as 15 kilos! The purpose of wearing all this silver is of course primarily aesthetic, but it also shows affluence and is thought to wards off evil spirits.
While usually worn by women, the Miao ethnic minority’s silverware is made by men. Categorized by functions, there are hats, clothing, necklaces, bracelets, and rings. The level of craftsmanship ranges from relatively basic styles seen in some of the bracelets and neckbands to very delicate skilful work used to make silver bells, flowers, birds, butterflies, needles, bubbles, chains, and earrings.
There are three basic varieties of Miao silverware distinguished by area. The first type is represented by eastern Guizhou province where people wear silver ornaments made with a high degree of craftsmanship. The main works are silver hats and clothes. The hats are made of dozens or even more than a hundred parts, topped by tall horn-like decorations. The second style is from the Songtao and Tongren regions, and features silverware inlaid on kerchiefs, shawls, and clothes. Delicate earrings are also made with a high degree of craftsmanship although there is now less silver decoration than before. The third type, from the regions west of Guiyang, capital of Guizhou Province, features comparatively few varieties of silverware. Only hairpins, combs, and flower decorations are made there. All three areas make earrings, neckbands, and bracelets.
There is a great demand for Miao silverware but all the craftsmen are amateurs who can often only work during the farming off season. Then in some regions unique “silver villages” or large compound silver workshops appear.
Because the Miao silverware producing regions have no natural silver resources, the hardworking Miao people used to melt almost all the silver coins and ingots they earned. This led to different levels of silver purity as currencies differed from region to region. From the 1950s, the government began to regularly allocate special silver to the Miao people to as a sign of respect for their tradition and customs.
The design of the silver decorations is largely inspired by other art forms such as embroidery and wax printing. The silversmiths consistently improve and enrich the patterns while keeping the traditional designs.
The rich varieties, elegant patterns, and exquisite craftsmanship not only demonstrate the colorful world of Miao people’s art, but their spiritual life as well.