Jewels of Shangri-La

April 14th, 2010 by James L. Sweaney, CGA, FGA. GG
Shangri-La Sterling, opal, ball style
Shangri-La Sterling, Opal triplet, ball style, $75

Shangri-La is a romantic name that evokes a vision of a heavenly land where people live nearly immortal lives in total happiness. Our friend, Michael Schofield, discovered a jeweler's version of Shangri-La while visiting the capital of Nepal, Kathmandu, nestled high in the Himalayas.

Guided by his interest in indigenous forms of art and jewelry, Michael was exploring some of the nearby mountain villages when he was fortunate to make the acquaintance of a family of traditional jewelers reputed to be the best in Nepal. He and the family soon established a working relationship — Michael would supply gems and metal, they would hand fabricate jewelry to his exacting specifications. Now Michael makes an annual pilgrimage by pack train to these remote workshops, delivering gems and precious metal, then picking up the year's jewelry production. We are fortunate to be able to bring these fabulous hand fabricated jewels to Mardon.

Shangri-La Sterling, Garnet, filligree style
Shangri-La Sterling, Garnet, filligree style, $75

An especially welcome feature of these Shangri-La gemstone jewelry pieces is their very reasonable price. Amazingly, most of these silver rings sell for only $75, the pendants are usually $95 including chain, and the matching earrings are $125!

This jewelry is interesting and unique for many reasons. It is completely hand crafted using traditional techniques and designs that have evolved for centuries. In fact, Michael told me that when he first began working with these Nepalese craftsmen, they did not polish their jewelry, instead burnishing it by rubbing with smooth stones. Burnishing produces a rather satiny finish rather than a bright high polish– Michael thought their silver jewelry looked like it was made of aluminum. When he introduced them to more modern methods of polishing, the Nepalese were much amazed at the totally new look of their silver work!

An outstanding characteristic of our Shangri-La jewelry is the very precise and exacting craftsmanship. Many of the pieces are decorated with twisted wires and applied beads, like the granulated jewelry made famous by the ancient Etruscans. This photo shows how carefully the twisted wires and the graduated beads are applied– you can see all the decorative elements clearly with no excess solder clogging the design.

Note the sharp detail of the decorations
Note the sharp detail of the decorative elements

This result is possible because the craftsmen of Kathmandu use a blowpipe torch, a time honored method of soldering which produces a perfect flame. The blowpipe technique requires the craftsman to continuously exhale a stream of air thru the blowpipe into a kerosene flame, creating a very hot yet sharp flame. By carefully heating both base and applique to the perfect temperature, the artisans bond these tiny pieces of metal precisely together with a minimum of solder– all done miles high in the thin air of the Himalayas!

Mardon has about fifteen styles of Shangri-La gemstone jewelry available in silver, each design a set with matching ring, pendant, and earring. The matching earrings are made just like high end boutique jewelry, where each side is the reverse of the other so they look proper on the left and right side of the face! Interestingly, even though the silver jewelry is marked sterling silver– i.e. 92.5% silver, they are actually fine silver– 100% silver. Michael has his pieces marked sterling because people are more familiar with sterling than fine silver.

Lapis ring, leaf style, fine silver
Lapis ring, leaf style, fine silver, $75
Lapis pendant, leaf style, fine silver
Matching Lapis pendant, leaf style, $95
Lapis earrings, leaf style, fine silver- note the left and right!
Matching Lapis earrings, leaf style- note the left and right versions! $125

And, you can get any of these styles in your choice of the following gems– Amethyst, Garnet, Blue Topaz, Citrine, Opal triplet, Peridot, Moonstone, Black Onyx, Pearl, Black Pearl, Lapis Lazuli, & Turquoise– If we don't have it in stock, we'll get it for you!

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