On a recent trip back East to see my parents, my mom disappeared into her bedroom, claiming she had to go get something for me. She returned, with a bracelet in hand, saying my “Uncle” Bob had given it to her when he returned from serving the US Armed Forces in Thailand, many decades ago. “Uncle” Bob, who was really my second cousin, was also my Godfather. I was touched, as I have very fond memories of this generous man.
Upon receipt of the bracelet, I carefully examined it and found the piece to be unusual by today’s standards. It was silver and black, with etched figures in different poses on each link. I tried it on but found it to be a little big but still lovely.
After I got home, we had the chance to look up bracelets from Thailand on the internet. The piece is called Nielloware and was a very common present for US Servicemen to bring home after being stationed overseas in Thailand or Siam as it used to be called. Another name for this type of jewelry is Siam Silver.
There is a wonderfully detailed post on another WordPress Blog called The Jewellery Muse from which I was able to gather a great deal of information on Nielloware. Below is a brief summary of the facts I gleaned from The Jewelry Muse as they pertain to my Nielloware bracelet.
- Nielloware or Siam Silver Jewelry was popularized in the mid-1900s (1930-1970) by returning servicemen bringing the pieces to the U.S. from Thailand. I do not know the actual dates my Uncle Bob served our Country or was in Thailand.
- The bracelet is sterling silver, stamped as such, with a black amalgam covering, that includes figures from Buddist and Hindu religious documents and legends.
- Not only are the pieces sterling silver but they also contain a large amount of lead. Care must be taken when wearing that hand to mouth contamination does not occur. Likewise, only highly capable jewelers, familiar with these antiques and the dangers posed by lead, should work on the Nielloware pieces if they need resizing.
- Niello refers to the black enamel-like coloring technique and refers back to the Latin word for black.
- My bracelet has the following Buddist/Hindu common characters if I am correctly identifying them from what I read. Mekkalah: the Goddess of Lightning, Ramasoon: the God of Thunder, Thepanom: a Thailand Guardian Angel deity, & Dancing Angel. It also has the following rare characters: Lord Rama (Prince/ Lord) and Nang Fa, the Fairy of Happiness (I am not at all sure of this one. Seen farthest to the left in the photo below.)
My bracelet has five figures that each repeat once. The clasp is a box clasp that easily inserts and is more difficult to release. It is a tad large, as I stated earlier. But, I love it for sentimental reasons and because I find it very interesting, historically. For more information, the eminent expert on Nielloware is Charles Dittell. He has a website, an e-book, and a physical book available on Amazon.
Jewelry has long been a fascination of mine. My introduction to Nielloware will only add to this fascination. Handcrafted adornments that are culturally significant hold a great deal of interest for me. I think I’ll be asking for Mr. Dittell’s book for a Christmas present!
Thanks, Mom! (And, “Uncle” Bob!)
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