I love using Thai silver beads and pendants, one of the first materials I experimented with when I started Pam Older Designs . The Hill Tribes of Thailand consist of about 20 different tribes, including the Karen, the Hmong, and the Yao. The villages have a history of making their living through the opium trade. In recent years the Thailand government has helped them to develop their silversmithing skills to give them a new direction and a better life.
Entire families are involved with bead production. I visited some villager huts and saw the process firsthand. (Although some village men prefer offering you a “hard” drink rather than show you how the beads are made!).
My friend and I visited one such hut that was also producing handmade primitive flutes and so we drank and danced. We found you could not buy a variety of beads from a single family. Each home specializes in certain designs and they function through a bead collective through which they sell their wares. Many of their designs, especially their focal pendant charms come from the natural world, like flowers,dragonflies and shells. We ended up buying most of our silver from a bead dealer in Chiang Mai.
Thai silver contains 99.9% pure silver on average, but it can range from 92.5-99.9. In that range it is considered fine silver which is softer than Sterling. To claim an item is Sterling it is required to contain 92.5% ore that is usually mixed with 7.5% copper to make it stronger.For this reason you will see sterling silver pieces imprinted with “925”. Unlike Sterling silver which can be dipped, polished on a polishing wheel or using silver polish, fine silver is more difficult to clean. The small oxidized silver beads made by the Hill Tribes, must be cleaned very gently using an anti-tarnish cloth. I use a Sunshine Cloth. I rub the strung beads very gently over and over until the non-recessed areas are restored to a gentle gleam. Be patient it takes a long time. You can also try a little lime juice but I think the cloth works the best. test the lime juice on a small area first. Other methods tend to remove the dark oxidation that gives Thai silver its rustic, handmade look. Never have it professionally polished to a high gleam- it will lose all its character. As with all jewelry, we recommend keeping it in an airtight plastic bag to keep it from tarnishing.