The story behind Lao Jewelry making is rich in history and tradition.
The area of Luang Prabang in northern Laos is a mix of traditional and French colonial influences, with Buddhist temples and monasteries alongside early 20th-century European architecture and contemporary Lao buildings.
As the capital of the Kingdom of Laos until the mid 20th-century civil war, Luang Prabang was home to artists and craftsmen who worked under the patronage of the royal family. Silverwork has a long history in the country, and jewelry designs show the influence of trade with China, Tibet, and India. High-grade silver jewelry was an important part of a bride’s dowry and, as precious jewelry is all over the world, a symbol of high status. Many hill tribes used it as currency, and even today some indigenous people carry silver bars and beads to use in trade.
In the video below, artisans demonstrate the intricate process behind Lao Jewelry making.
The floral motif on our Lao jewelery, including the Lao Flower Bracelet and Lao Flower earrings, is of the indigenous dok phikoun flower. Buddhist monks taught that the blossom represented good luck and longevity, but for many years only the royal family could use the motif. The dok phikoun was used decorations in the palace at Luang Prabang, from the king’s elephant’s war saddle to jewelry for the princess. These two pieces are left bright, which is traditional for Lao jewelry used in weddings. Other pieces, such as our Sterling Silver Lao Bracelet, are oxidized to bring out their details.
After the civil war, many of Luang Prabang’s artisans moved to the capital of Vientiane for safety—being aligned with the royal family had become dangerous. Siamese armies had burned and looted Vientiane in the early 1800s, and the forest had begun to overrun the city by the time the French arrived at the end of the 19th century. They rebuilt the city and restored many of the ancient Buddhist temples, and today Vientiane has become not only the political capital but also the cultural and economic center of Laos.
Shop the National Geographic Store for traditional handmade silver jewelry pieces from Lao.