Hmong jewelry has commercialized so quickly that the word "antique" is applied to pieces from the 1950s. Those are highly regarded and their increasing scarcity is rightly lamented. These earrings, however, are much older -- dating from the early 20th century or perhaps late in the 19th.
A glance at the hand-drawn wires tells you these have real age. So does the style, which isn't from the limited menu of traditional designs being reproduced today, usually in simplified versions. Here we have intricate, multi-part construction; repousse work and even a bevy of bouncing charms. This is also great silver: the kind Hmong silversmiths used to get by melting old French coins and now can only dream of.
As you'll know if you collect in this genre, silver symbolizes not only prosperity to the Hmong people, but the essence of a good life. That's why the enormous heirloom crowns passed down from mother to daughter are as exuberant as the festival occasions when they're worn. Jewels also serve the Hmong as amulets. This arrow shape, for instance -- the upper triangle -- points upward to ensure a favorable flow of cosmic forces, so they say. And who am I to argue?
From the collection of a world traveler who got to Laos before the antique supply grew terribly sparse, these treasures measure about 1 3/4" by 3/4" (not counting the wires) and have a satisfying heft: 13 grams.
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