If you enjoy beautiful and intricate designs in silver jewelry you are likely to already be familiar with the famous jewelers of the island of Bali. The Indonesian culture has long been revered for their ability to work with silver to create unique and beautiful pieces of jewelry that have both traditional Asian and Indian influences but are also on the forefront of creating new jewelry trends. Interestingly enough gold jewelry was originally the biggest export of the country, but this has changed over the last 20 years to reflect the increasing demand for high quality silver jewelry.
The history of silver work within the area begins in the Bronze Age with the local artisans trained in working silver and other metals by jewelers from China and Southeast Asia. Since both gold and silver were and are mined in Indonesia, the artisans had lots of raw materials to work with both in the form of the two metals but also in pearls, gems and jewels as well as other naturally occurring items such as bone, shell and beautiful polished rock. In fact by the end of the 1300s Bali was the central area for silver work and jewelry making in Indonesia and was a true hotspot of trading activity in the East.
The main area of silver work is the town of Celuk, which is located on the southern part of the island. There are other artisans spread out over the island, however the major concentration is in the area of Celuk. The skills and training has always been passed down through families on the island with great pride in the quality, uniqueness and beauty of the pieces produced by the family. Some of these families can trace their lineage and their craft back to the first silversmiths in the area, even though local legend indicates that the skill of working silver was actually taught to the families by the gods. There are different patterns and designs used by some of the silversmith families and those that are very familiar with the silver jewelry produced in Bali can identify which artisans created different pieces just by the style and patterns used.
One of the most common methods used to produce the distinct jewelry from the island is know as granulation. A solid natural silver piece is decorated using small granules of silver to form the pattern. This takes a tremendous amount of precision to work with these tiny spheres to place and fix them in the pattern. Since the silver is left natural and not plated or treated, the background between the spheres becomes black, providing a sharp relief to the pattern and really making it pop from the base. Often, especially in the more modern pieces, gems and other metals are used in the design and may play more of a center role in the pattern than would have been found on very early traditional Balinese jewelry.
Another form of decoration used in Bali is actually more from the area of Java, but is still widely used in Bali. This style produces very fine and intricate filigree patterns that are attached to polished silver, resulting in amazingly detailed pieces. Jewels and other metals can also be used in this style, as can a combination of granulation and filigree work. Recently a style of silver jewelry that looks like woven or basket weave patterns on necklaces, bracelets and even earrings has become popular in the exported silver items from the island.
Bali turtle conservation in action
Marine turtles have it rough. They’re eaten, caught in fishing nets, and have a bad habit of mistakenly eating plastic which makes them seriously ill. Fortunately, there’s rehab for turtles – like the Turtle Conservation and Education Centre on Serangan island in Bali.