Balinese Delights: The Wonderful Jewelry of This Beautiful Island

Good afternoon, jewels and gents.

Previously, we have discussed the incredible and beautiful traditions of jewelry making in Mexico and of the nomadic Bedouins who live on the Arabian Peninsula.  Today we will travel to South East Asia, to the Indonesian island of Bali.

When one thinks of Bali, images of pristine beaches and seashells come to mind, beautiful villas, relaxation…all the typical things that would be found on an exotic island.  You might be surprised to know that the island of Bali has a long tradition of skilled jewelry makers, especially those working with precious metals.  Balinese jewelry is quite popular among tourists who want to take a souvenir home, and many families on the island are talented silver and goldsmiths.

Originally, jewelry, mostly made of gold, was made for religious uses in temples or was only for those with money to spare.  In recent times, silver has become quite popular and Balinese artisans are skilled at working with the metal. (Sometimes precious and semiprecious stones are used.  However, they are not native to the island.) Common techniques used in jewelry making are filigree and granulation.

Traditionally, all jewelry from the island is hand crafted.  This includes the process of weighing and mixing the silver (92.5%) with copper (7.5%) to create sterling silver. Everything down to the wire needed for the filigree is made by the craftsman. (Wire is made by pulling the silver through sequentially smaller holes cut into a special block until it becomes the desired gauge.)  Filigree refers to a particular type of metalworking, which involves the use of thin metal threads and/or small beads. These elements are then soldered together or to a sheet of the same metal (often silver or gold).  It is very delicate in appearance and very beautiful. Silver granulation is when small beads of silver are heated until they can be worked with and formed into a piece of jewelry.

This labor intensive process is reflected in the price. There are also cheaper pieces sold on the island, called “Bali Style Silver”.  While not inherently bad, it is not originally from the island (or even the region) and involves casting the silver instead of the more traditional techniques. To check if your silver is cast, just look closely at the beads.  If they are too similar or the beads seem too perfect, they are most likely “Bali Style”.  “Bali Style” will also be cheaper than traditional handmade Balinese jewelry.

The little known traditional Balinese craft of jewelry making is responsible for the creation of some exquisite pieces.  Cuffs, bracelets, rings, earrings, necklaces are some of their products, all of which are quite stunning.

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