While worn by women, the Miao’s silver jewelries are made by men. The unique techniques to craft silver jewelry have been handed down from generations. Don’t look down upon a small piece of silver jewelry, because it involves dozens of procedures which requires extremely patience, persistence and carefulness.
Melting silver is the first step. Traditionally a big stove made of charcoal is used to melt silver. Today, silversmiths have invented a small, light electric tool that can heat silver to temperatures over 1,000 degrees Celsius. They melt silver in a bowl called the “silver nest”.
Then the seething hot silver liquid is poured into an iron slot to harden into a solid silver bar. They take the bar out of the slot with forceps and hammer it into the needed shape. Some silver jewelries are carefully crafted with paper-thin slices, while others need solid, heavy pieces of silver.
How do they work with such thin slices and hair-like silver threads to craft silver jewerly? Only using a pair of scissors and forceps, the Miao Hmong artisans can twist these delicate, fine silver slices and threads into elaborate patterns featuring lifelike birds, flowers, and other symbols. Some craftsmen always wear a magnifying glass just to see the fine pieces on their silver jewelries.
To make silver threads, Miao Hmong artisans use a steel sheet with 60 different round holes. The size of each hole is different. The steel board is put onto a short, round wooden post. The silversmith steps onto the board and uses a pair of pliers to pull silver through the holes. Just like that, an ideal silver thread is created.
To work with such fine silver slices or threads is very hurtful to one’s eyes. That’s why lots of Miao silversmiths have to retire before they are 50.
Silver jewelries crafted with such silver slices or threads look more charming and unique.
Some Miao silver jewelries have beautiful patterns engraved on their surface. Before engraving, the jewelry needs to be fixed onto a rosin board. They’ll heat the black rosin board to make the surface softer, and the silver can be easily fixed on it. The rosin then cools down, and the silver stick to the surface.
The silversmith will use a pencil to draw designs on the silver, and then he will engrave the designs using sharp steel sticks, which are about 10 centimeters long with round, flat, or pointed tops. A light hammer, made of the horn of a water buffalo, is used to strike the sticks and make the design. Engraving is quite time consuming.
Each intricate design should be engraved carefully. A slight error may ruin the whole piece of work. A skillful Miao Hmong silversmith needs many years of training and practice. Their elaborate silver jewelries are impossible to be copied by any machine.
Miao Hmong silver jewelries often combine different pieces, so the almost perfect soldering of tiny pieces is strictly demanded. Inspecting a Miao Hmong silver jewelry, you’ll never find any small, ugly bubbles of solder. The finished work looks so neat and clean.
Washing is the last step. Immersing the handmade jewelry into phosphoric acid for a few minutes removes stains from surface and makes the silver brighter and whiter.
Intricately designed Miao Hmong silver jewelries not only show Miao Hmong craftsmanship, but also reflect Miao Hmong culture. They are so unique that it’s impossible for anyone to duplicate.
by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com
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