Kathmandu's Hidden Gems: Finding Unique Bead Jewelry in the City

1, May 2023 | nepaltraveller.com

Glass bead crafting is not only a craft, but it is also a vital aspect of Nepalese culture. These beads hold a special place in traditional ceremonies and festivals.

Glass bead handicrafts have a rich and fascinating history in Nepal, dating back several generations. These intricate pieces of jewelry, decorative items, and religious artifacts are created by skilled craftsmen using techniques passed down through the ages. Glass bead crafting is not only a craft, but it is also a vital aspect of Nepalese culture. These beads hold a special place in traditional ceremonies and festivals.

One of the most common and popular ornaments among Nepalese women is the "Potay," a traditional necklace made with red or green glass beads that symbolizes their marital status. In addition to traditional necklaces, these glass beads are now used to create trendy jewelry, such as necklaces, bangles, earrings, and hairpins. Unmarried women also wear these traditional glass beads, and they have become increasingly popular among foreigners and tourists.

The ethnic Newar community in Kathmandu is heavily involved in the making of this jewelry, along with semi-precious stone jewelry. The art form is primarily influenced by Tibetan culture. Nepalese Muslims are also involved in creating exquisite malas, necklaces, Zen bracelets, and other jewelry pieces made of semi-precious stones, wood, or seeds. Nepalese jewelry is closely linked to religion, including Buddhism and Hinduism.

The ties between Nepal and Tibet have a centuries-old history, which allowed Nepalese artisans to import various precious stones, such as turquoise, lapis lazuli, and coral. Newar artists were already skilled in wood, pearl, and metal artistry and sculpture. Many Nepalese artisans migrated to Tibet around the nineteenth century, taking Nepalese jewelry with them. In Tibet, jewelry soon became a symbol of wealth and class. However, the unstable political climate in Tibet forced the artists to return to Kathmandu, where they restarted their businesses.

In Nepal, these beads became increasingly popular among women and became directly linked to a woman's status. These necklaces signify the marital status of marriage or spiritual symbolism, and many women wear gold pendants on their necklaces on special occasions to demonstrate their family's wealth. Red, green, and yellow are the primary colors used in these ornaments.

Nepalese jewelry is made using various materials such as brass, silver, copper, and even 22-carat gold. Semi-precious stones such as rubies and sapphire are often imported from Sri Lanka and Burma, while amethyst, jade, amber, garnet, agate, lapis lazuli, opal, carnelian, and other semi-precious stones come from India. Nepalese jewelry also includes yak bone, wood beads, and natural seeds. The most commonly used bead materials are stone, plastic, glass, yak bone, and seeds. The beads are worn in the context of religion and culture, and different birthstones based on horoscopes play a vital role in their creation.

If you want to purchase beads or jewelry in Kathmandu, there are numerous shops in and around the Kathmandu Valley. The alleyways of Indra Chowk in Kathmandu Durbar Square are an excellent place to find exceptional jewelry. You can find small stalls holding rows of beads hidden between the temples. These skills of joining small beads to form necklaces have been passed down from one generation to the next, but sadly, these traditions are slowly dying out as fewer young people follow this traditional occupation. There are also many high-end jewelry shops with semi-precious and precious stones in the Patan Durbar Square, Bhaktapur area, and the tourist hub of Thamel in Kathmandu.

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