Ethnic jewelry of the Tibeto-Nepalese

Tibetan girl wearing turquoise coral and amber head ornament
Turquoise, coral and amber beads head ornament

Nepal is a country of mixed population. Along its northern border in high alpine valleys like Mustang, Dolpo, Langtang, Solu-Khumbu and others live many groups of Tibetan origin. By the Nepalese they are called Bhote which means Tibetan. Besides, thousands of Tibetans migrated to Nepal following Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959.
The jewelry of Tibeto-Nepalese stands out due to its colourful materials. Most popular are bead necklaces strung from blue turquoise, red coral, yellow amber beads in all sizes and shapes. Strands in combination of the stones are common. In many cases bead necklaces serve as the support for an amulet container. The most valued beads are dzi and blood-coloured corals. Tibetans like to wear a dzi bead flanked by a pair of coral beads.

Tibetan women from Nepal wearing coral turquoise and dzi beads necklaces
Coral, turquoise and dzi beads necklaces

Tibetan woman wearing dzi beads, coral and turquoise necklaces
Dzi beads, coral and turquoise necklaces

Dzi beads are regarded as mysterious and magical by Tibetan people who value them above other precious materials. Dzi are beads (generally halzedony quartz) of black or brown ground colour and a white surface pattern. These patterns are quite varied. The most frequent design is a circle commonly referred to as an "eye" which may occur from one to twelve times on a single bead. The value of a dzi bead depend on the number of "eyes" it contains. The "earth" and "sky" designs are also highly valued.
The origin of dzi beads is not clear. The most common belief among Tibetans is that dzi are worms or insects that move under the earth and turn to stone when found by humans. The dzi is worn by both men and women to protect them from the attacks of evil spirits who can cause sickness and death. If dzi breaks it is considered to have done its job at protecting its wearer and is no longer effective.

Tibetan man wearing dzi and coral beads necklace and coral ring
Dzi and coral beads necklace

The most frequent form of jewelry worn by Tibetan groups are amulet containers, gau. Amulet boxes are made in many sizes and shapes: round, square, trapezoid, oval, hexagonal, mandala-like, but most often in a rectangular form. They are traditionally made of silver but occasionally gold amulet boxes can be seen too.

Tibetan woman wearing pearl turquoise coral and dzi beads necklace and amulet container
Pearl, turquoise, coral and dzi beads necklace and amulet container

Gold amulet container attached to coral and turquoise necklace
Golden amulet container attached to coral and turquoise necklace

Earrings are generally worn all the time. Many men wear a single earring that may be just a turquoise stone tied with a string to the pierced earlobe. A wide-spred belief circulates among Tibetans that a turquoise worn in the ear prevents reincarnation as a donkey. The most typical and widely worn Tibetan earring, aylong, consists of a pearled wired hoop to which a single turquoise is attached. The metal used are silver, gold, brass. Sizes vary from two to seven centimeters. When the earrings are large and heavy they are tied into the hair by a string.

Rings of many types are also worn. Most are silver and mounted with a coral or turquoise stone. Because the middle finger is believed to be one of the nine gates of the body through which life forces can escape and evil spirits can enter, rings are worn on the middle finger, thereby closing the gate.
Some Tibeto-Nepalese groups wear coin jewelry. Indian and Chinese silver coins are strung in large necklaces, made into rings. The eastern Sherpa wear hats decorated with coins.

Eastern Sherpa woman wearing a hat decorated with coins

Among other jewelry worn by Tibeto-Nepalese women are large apron clasps, gedig. They look like large belt buckles without belts. The clasps are made of a large piece of silver with two hooks on the back. The surface is decorated, often showing one or several of the eight auspicious symbols.

Some of women still wear silver belts called ghangen. The item looks like belt but actually it is a horizontal band with a vertical band hanging from the centre. At both sides at the waist level hooks grasp a woolen apron. Silver chains or some utensils like a spoon may hang down from the belt.

These are the most common jewelry items worn by Tibetan groups in Nepal.

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