Home Indonesia Silver Work A Brief History of Bali Silver and Gold Work

A Brief History of Bali Silver and Gold Work

The people of Bali and the rest of Indonesia have been engaged in metal work for several thousand years.  Here is a brief chronology of how they got to where they are today.

bali-braceletAs humanity moved from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age, knowledge of metallurgy spread slowly across Eurasia, Africa and Southeast Asia. Since the Bronze Age is a prehistoric period, much of what we know about it comes from archealogical finds.

The Bronze Age is typically defined as that period of time between 3500 BC and 1200 BC.  It is characterized by the mastery of bronze making, an alloy typically made of copper and tin. Eventually, these bronze working skills became more sophisticated, leading to iron working and the Iron Age.

The Bronze Age began 5500 years ago in the region we now know as Turkey, Iraq and Iran -- the cradle of civilization. It took nearly 2000 years for the techniques of bronze work to make it to the Indian continent. Scholars generally date the beginning of the Indian Bronze Age to about 3300 BC. It took another 1200 years for Bronze Age knowledge to make it to China and the rest of Southeast Asia, including the islands that now collectively make up Indonesia (which did not become a sovereign nation until 1949).

We can say with some certainty that the people of Bali and Indonesia have had metal working skills for at least 2600 years. It is not secret how they developed these skills. Trade with China, India, the Middle East and other regions has been established for several thousand years. Through these encounters and exchanges the skills of Southeast Asians advanced, including their abilities to work with silver and gold. The discovery of gold within the borders of what is now Indonesia fueled the advancement of these skills further. Many gold and silver jewelry artifacts have been found, for example.

borneo design

By the 16th century AD Bali became known as for the exceptional quality of its silver and gold work. The traditons of the Balinese people inform them that their advanced skills were learned directly from the gods. Today many bead store owners and jewelry designers make regular pilgrimages to Bali to stock up on Balinese sterling silver beads, findings and jewelry.

One interesting development is that the Bali people themselves are traveling more and more and incorporating what they learn about their fellow Indonesians in their designs.  The item to the left in inspired by the art of Borneo and was created by our nephew Ming.