Learn About Jewellery – What is Karen Hill Tribe Silver?

Who are the Karen Hill Tribe?

I have to confess that until recently I wasn’t sure what the term Karen hill tribe or hill tribe actually referred to, other than the fact that it was a type of silver.

Hill Tribes Woman Sitting in Village

Hill Tribes Woman

Hill tribe refers specifically to silver which is handcrafted by the hill tribes of Thailand, Laos and Burma (Myanmar). These hill tribes can be traced back to the 12th century; originating in Tibet.

The largest of the 20 or so hill tribes is the Karen tribe, who number approximatley 7 million members.

Around 400,000 Karen live high up in the forested mountains of  Thailand and Burma (Myanmar), at an altitude of between 800m and 1800m – totally remote from Thai civilisation. Their simple houses are made of teak or bamboo and are usually constructed on stilts to provide space and shelter for livestock.

Typical Hill Tribes Village with Wooden Homes Built on Stilts

Typical Hill Tribes Village with Wooden Homes Built on Stilts

The Karen villagers have few possessions and little if any furniture, sleeping mostly on floor mats. They live very simply – cooking on open fires, and drawing washing and drinking water from local rivers. They are predominantly self-sustaining agricultural produce farmers and are often referred to as ‘the farmers of the forest’.  Languages spoke include the ancient Karen language, whilst others speak Thai.

What makes Karen Hill Tribe Silver so special?

Karen Hill Tribe silver is between 99.5% and 99.9% pure silver.  It has a higher silver content than Sterling silver which has a silver content of 92.5%. It’s only the solder used to fuse the silver components together that makes up the last fractions of a percent. Consequently, Karen Hill Tribe silver has a weight, bright satin sheen, and feel, all of its own.  It is instantly recognisable to the naked eye.

Karen hill tribe silver faceted lentil beads

Beautiful lustrous Karen Hill Tribe Beads

How are Karen Hill Tribe Beads Made?

Every piece is handmade and individual. The hand-hammered and chased details are beautiful and you can see that each piece has been painstakingly formed by the hands of a skilled artisan.

Karen Hill Tribe Silver Artisan at Work

Karen Hill Tribe Silver Artisan at Work

Silver jewelry is part of the hill tribe culture. Young hill tribe women save their money to buy silver beads to add to their dowries.

Radiant Hill Tribe Bride Adorned with Silver

Radiant Hill Tribe Bride Adorned with Silver

To see how the silver is handmade, watch this fascinating video.

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7 thoughts on “Learn About Jewellery – What is Karen Hill Tribe Silver?

    • Hi Sue, glad you’ve also learnt something new here. I’ve had some Hill Tribe silver in my bead stash for a while now, and I’d always wondered why they looked so different from my other silver beads – so I decided to find out why! I was very surprised to find out it has a higher silver content than sterling silver.

  1. Pingback: Karen Long Neck Hill Tribe of Thailand | Christine Zenino

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