Scintillating Silver Jewelry of Nepal

A long time back, a friend had the opportunity to visit Copenhagen in Denmark. He took along a score or so of Nepali silver jewelry with him and showed them around in some shops on Stroget (the city’s famous pedestrian street). To his pleasant surprise, almost all of the pieces were snapped up immediately. He discovered that the Danes preferred jewelry with snake designs and those that had turquoise and coral settings. A large pendant in the form of Tara’s head, in particular, fetched him handsome returns. Indeed, Nepali silver jewelry appears to have a good market abroad. No wonder Nepali silver jewelry was only third behind pashmina and woolen goods in terms of Nepal’s handicraft exports last year. However, although the U.S. is the biggest importer of jewelry from Nepal, there is still a lot of potential that remains to be tapped in that huge country. Perhaps this is why growth in exports of Nepal silver jewelry has remained more or less stagnant through the years: Rs. 353 million (2002/2003), Rs. 360 million (2005/2006), Rs. 345.69 (2007/2008) and last year, Rs. 368.72 million.

This is not a good state of affairs since handicrafts is one of Nepal’s major exports. It has two categories—textile and non-textile. The former includes cotton, dhaka, pashmina, woolen, silk, felt, hemp and allo (nettle fibre) goods while the latter category has: jewelry (mainly silver jewelry), wood, metal, and stone crafts, leather goods, paper products, ceramics, bead items, bamboo products, paubha painting, incense, bone and horn products. The leaders of Nepali handicraft exports last year were Pashmina (17.01%) and woolen goods (16.18%) while silver jewelry accounted for 13.25% and metal craft and felt products were 13.14% and 12. 65% respectively.

Appropriately enough, some of the country’s most accomplished silversmiths and jewelry makers are to be found in Patan, or Lalitpur (“City of the Arts”). This historical city has a large number of shops selling silver jewelry with most such shops being hereditary family businesses wherein many generations have passed through. Skills have been handed down from grandfathers to fathers to sons. And, among the city’s skilled silversmiths, some the most reputed belong to the Shakya and Bajracharya clans. Nepali silver jewelry are designed in the form of rings, bracelets, necklaces or brooches and many cab found to be embellished with semi-precious stones like topaz, amethyst, garnet, coral, sapphire, turquoise, ruby, aquamarine, quartz, etc. Prices are on the whole, relatively cheap but they do vary widely according to size, design and kind of stone used. For example, a more exquisitely designed smoky topaz silver ring will set you back by about NRS.15000 (around USD 170).

 Do visit Federation of Handicraft Associations of Nepal for a list of shops selling silver jewelry.

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