Sterling silver. An alloy we see so often in jewellery we don’t stop to think anything of it. But it carries quite a story that unites countries, cultures and religions across the world.
How does the world wear sterling silver jewellery?
Sterling silver has been around for thousands of years and has an undeniable presence in the history of jewellery, particularly in Europe, Asia and the Americas. You can buy it everywhere from offline and online jewellery shops and from online and offline auctions and jewellers.
Worn for weddings, symbolic occasions and everything in between sterling silver also carries spiritual and mystical qualities to some (read more on that with how to wear sterling silver bracelets).
So with that in mind, let’s take a whirlwind tour of fine sterling silver jewellery from around the world, celebrating just some of the countries and cultures that can show us new ways to wear it.
Native American Pearls
Sterling silver has long played a part in Native American jewellery. As discussed on the Native Indian specialist blog indiantraders, the Native American people of the Americas in the past have used jewellery as a symbol of their power, social class and rank within a tribe and as a commodity to trade.
Image from Two Feathers (Brighton, UK)
If we look at Navajo jewellery from the Native Americans of the south west United States, it is captivating once you start realising the nuances of the pearls - which are actually beads of sterling silver. They come in plain, round, seed, melon, barrel, plain, stamped, fluted and antiqued beads as listed on nativeamericanjewelrytips.
Image from Two Feathers (Brighton, UK)
Traditionally, women wear sterling silver beaded chokers (usually with large precious stone pendants), silver beaded necklaces and squash blossom necklaces. Such jewellery is regularly coupled with a pop of colour from turquoise or coral with mother of pearl and opal amongst other gemstones. The jewellery is worn in layers and various lengths like a colourful armour set across their chests.
Image from Two Feathers (Brighton, UK)
Reading further from nativeamericanjewelrytips, handmade Navajo beads are crafted by hand, involving highly skilled ‘cutting, stamping, dapping, drilling, soldering, filing, polishing and stringing’. The silversmiths use very specific hand tools to craft their silver and usually place them on a ‘foxtail cord’ (in other words a chain) that is frequently made of sterling silver (sometimes nickel or additional metals).
Other types of tribal groups creating sterling silver jewellery are Zuni, Hopi and Apache, and are definitely worth checking out.
So if you’re looking to invest in a colourful statement piece with history, couple a vintage Navajo sterling silver necklace with a pendant and your regular, minimal chunky ring for the perfect contrast in colour, history and style.
A tip though, if buying Native American pieces, try to buy direct from Native American sellers, find out the history of the piece and the area from which it is from. This will be greatly valued by other Native Americans as a display that you are not merely wearing their jewellery for fashion and appearance but appreciate its meaning.
Known commonly as Alpaca silver, Peruvian silver or “Plata de Ley” whilst coming in many forms, is most commonly an alloy mixed with nickel, copper or zinc with a hallmark of .925 or .950 purity (read our post on 925 sterling silver stamps and hallmarks to understand purity and stamps). Peru has been foraging silver as early back as the 16th century and is home to the Antamina mine, the 9th largest silver mine in the world.
Vintage handcrafted Peruvian sterling silver jewellery is found to be chunky, highly ornate and alive with motifs. For example, large, linked panel bracelets joined with jump rings are commonly found. They often carry ancient references to the Incas. Incredibly, there are a large amount of precious metal linked bracelets available on Ebay, like this 7 inch Incan design panel bracelet.
Modern day looks frequently involve sterling silver, with statement pieces such as chandelier earrings often based on original Inca designs. Whilst there are smaller choices, Peruvian sterling silver jewellery is mostly large and elaborate pieces from necklaces to rings.
Image by Artizan International
If you’re hoping to add some vintage statement pieces to your collection, look into a handmade Peruvian silver bracelet, made with the finest sterling silver and wear some fresh and contemporary silver jewellery like these simple creole earrings as a minimal statement vs vintage elegance. Maybe you could add Peru to your next travel destination to see the range in person if you love their expert craftsmanship and designs!
Despite the name, Tibetan silver is more an array of alloys such as copper, nickel and zinc mixed with a tiny amount of silver (sometimes none at all!). It’s appearance is different to what we know as sterling silver with more of a darker, faded effect, like aged silver.
Of course, there are some pieces like this pair of rare silver bracelets that are made from solid sterling silver, but the Tibetan silver for which the country is famed has a more demure look.
Image from TibiCollection
Generally, gold is the metal of choice for the everyday wear of the Tibetan people, with women wearing more jewellery than men. Silver tends to be offered to the Gods in various forms, though modern, more urban men and women may wear casual and less ornate silver pieces.
A notable jewellery feature of Tibetan silver is the tradition of Tibetan gaus. Gaus are ‘wearable amulet containers traditionally worn for personal adornment...believed to invoke spiritual blessings and give protection to the wearer’ garudashop, this Dharma specialist site states. They are essentially ‘portable shines’ which are still worn by Tibetians still today. Inside a gau you might find little statues, gurus, deities or written mantras for example. Have a look at this striking example.
Alongside gaus, thick open cuff bracelets, chandelier earrings and necklaces are coupled with large coral, conch and turquoise adjourned stone and material work. According to itibettravel ‘amber, lapis lazuli, jade, garnet, agates, rubies, sapphires, amethyst and carnelian’ are used in Tibetan jewellery with metals.
Why not mix your fresh and contemporary sterling silver collection up with a hand hammered silver cuff bracelet worn along with a traditional Dhugu bracelet to invest in some vintage pieces to add some age to your jewellery collection.
It is true that gold is the most common metal used in Indian jewellery, during weddings and religious ceremonies for example, which are often connected to the Gods and Goddesses in Hinduism according to The NYU Dispatch. The site goes on to explain that gold jewellery features ‘above the waist’ with silver being worn ‘below the waist’ meaning in India rings, bangles and anklets are usually made in silver.
All jewellery is symbolic in Indian culture, and silver is no different. Silver pieces dignify protection from magic, and represent motherhood and femininity.
In India, married women wear silver toe rings known as ‘bichhiya’ on the second toe of each foot to symbolise the oath of marriage. Brides wear ‘kangans’, a traditionally worn Indian bangle which is very elaborate in its design, and fastened with a clasp.
Baby girls are given payals, which is a silver anklet with a tiny bell. It seems silver plays a very sentimental and meaningful role to the Indian people, in fact, it is so loved in India there is the Amrapali museum in Jaipur with a vast silver collection to fawn over (definitely worth a visit if India is on your travel bucket list).
Image from FloweredbyFar
But how can we draw inspiration for a new look from Indian silver jewellery? Why not keep it minimal and clean with handcrafted jewellery from the Aquila Agonda collection and a continuation of the theme with a thin sterling silver domed toe ring - both will look oh so boho on a sun drenched beach.
So there it is, sterling silver jewellery from around the world. It just goes to show opening our eyes to the cultures of the world can inspire our own jewellery looks, as well as giving us itchy feet (time to book that next holiday!).