There are six main hill tribes in northern Thailand, Laos and Burma (Myanmar) who are known for their lovely silver jewelry. One of the largest are the Karen. Half of Thailand's hill tribe people are the Karen. Their tribal lore tells of their ancestors crossing "a river of running sand". Many of them think this refers to the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. If so, their ancestors left there many centuries ago.

Karen Silver Necklace picture by Silver Canyons on Artfire

Image by Chrissy Olson
Today they are mostly farmers eking out a living in a remote and heavily forested part of the country. They are also the crafts people behind Hill tribe silver. It's not just the workmanship which is prized but the fact that the Karen use a much purer form of silver (97 - 99%) than sterling silver(92.5%). The solder they use to fuse pieces together is what prevents their metal work from being close to 100% silver . It is easier to work with fine silver as it is softer.

A Big-Ear Karen Tribe VendorImage by Jill Mitchell Silver jewelry is part of their culture. Young hill tribe women save their money to buy silver beads to add to their dowries.

The silver beads are all painstakingly hand crafted. Workshops in many of these villages are often wooden houses which could be on stilts. They work in an assembly line, each worker processing one stage.

As you can see from this video, there are no furnaces - the silver is melted down by torch. The molten metal is poured into a mold to form rods. These are then rolled into long strips using roller presses before moving on to be shaped and textured. It's mind boggling to see that every single tiny bead is created by hand. It`s yet another reason why Karen Hill Tribe silver is more expensive.

But it's worth it not just because the silver pieces are so beautiful. It helps keep their traditional crafts alive and enable the Karen to earn a living.

The women towards the end of the video have homemade rice powder face masks on - a traditional beauty treatment for blemishes, wrinkle banishment and to even out skin pigmentation.

While the above video shows the silver making steps clearly, I suspect the silver making station there is geared for tourists. Check out this video which shows a trip to a real Hill Tribe Silver Village. Such teamwork - the men using their foot pump operated torches!

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