Miao Silver Wire Jewelry
Wu Zhi

Wu Zhi is from Shidong in Guzhou province - a remote area inhabited by ethnic minorities native to the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau. They have an unusual tradition of translating all their family wealth into silver, which is then melted, forged into fine wire and fashioned into jewellery and garment decoration.

Silver hairpins, bracelets, necklaces, Miao women may be wrapped from head to toe with 10 or 15 kilograms of decoration. Some say that their mobile wealth is one of the reasons the Miao people do not settle down in one place, while others believe their migratory habits are to keep one step ahead of evil spirits.  Others say that the beautiful wearable wealth is simply to attract the eye of potential partners from amongst the young men.  Whatever the reason, it is clear that the Miao people have a deep love affair with silver jewellery.

Miao silversmiths are usually part of a family tradition, not linked to anyone outside. When Wu Zhi reached the age of twelve he followed in his father's footsteps and learned silver design, production and sales. He soon showed that his silver work was not only beautiful, but displayed especially delicate chiselling and engraving.

When we visited his studio he was wearing his reading glasses and closely focused on producing a traditional phoenix-themed piece of decoration.  He said "This job is specially hard on your eyes because I have to stretch the silver into wires that are thinner than a human hair.  I use stamping, carving and other secret techniques  to create exquisite patterns and then weld or forge the silver together.  Because I make these patterns by eye, I use tiny hammers on a board to gently and slowly shape the pieces to the desired design.  The image originates in my mind and I transfer that image to my hand and thus to the piece I am making."  

He then showed us a butterfly he had previously fashioned. We had heard of the Miao's special love for totems, especially their kinship to the butterfly mother, according to the ancient songs.  This butterfly will later be added to an ornate Miao head-dress favoured by their women. One headdress has over two hundred of these totems. With every single piece being hand made, it is no wonder this crown might take a year to create.  He then proudly showed us more of his work, including welded filigree drums, cow's head, and lanterns, with each piece carrying a special meaning. The lantern, for example, is gifted to light up the receiver's life. Our personal favourite is his new experimental ring which has another ring inset, the inner ring being able to spin within the outer.  The piece is a fusion of Miao traditional patterns and Tibetan prayer wheels which, when spun with simple hand movements, send prayers for the wearer.

Without written text, the Miao put their rich history, their ancestry and their deepest beliefs into precious silver jewellery.

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