Let me preface this article with a bit about my expertise. I fell in love with this jewelry about six years ago and about four years ago my husband and I decided that we should write a book on it. There are two books on the subject and we felt that although they made a good start, much of the information is missing and some of it is incorrect.
Since then thousands of hours have been spent on this endeavor. We own over 2,200 pieces, each studied, categorized, dated, and cataloged. I found and read the Ramakien story of Rama and Sita. I also found and read the child's fairy tale of Mekhala and Ramasoon. I have studied the figures and designs, the hardware, and the workmanship. I have found and purchased travel books, salesman price lists, and read trade magazines, all searching for clues to this jewelry that embraces a mystical world of a very old story...
It is a time of gods and men and the games they played on the earth below. It is a time of spells and curses, warriors and lovers, victory and loss, and the fight to defeat the ultimate enemy. It is a time of epic battles, great sorrows, ultimate hope, and a love that overcame all. It is the story of Rama and Sita of the Ramakien of Thailand…
There are many mysteries left but before I get sidetracked...let's get to the most common questions...
WHAT IS IT
Siam sterling jewelry is sterling silver jewelry made in Thailand and depicts the characters of mythology and from the Ramakien (the Thailand national story) as well as the story of Mekhala and Ramasoon. It was manufactured with two different combinations - Sterling / Niello and Sterling / Enamel. For our purposes here, I will be focusing on Niello.
WHAT IS NIELLO
It is the black part of the Siam Sterling jewelry and can be confused with Damascene. Niello is made from silver, copper, sulphur, lead and ammonium chloride. It is applied while Damascene is not.
Damascene is the art of inlaying one metal into another with the black base usually being a black oxidized steel.
WHEN WAS SIAM STERLING JEWELRY MADE
It was made from approximately 1926 until 1989. I know, not what a lot of people think when they see the word 'Siam', falsely thinking that this name dates the piece.
What differentiates the pieces is by how they are marked. Here is a general guideline for marks:
No markings - 1926 - 1935
Sterling - 1926 - 1946
Siam Silver - late 1940s
Handmade in Siam - Early 1950s
Made in Siam - 1940s
Siam Sterling - Early 1950s - mid 1960s
Sterling Thailand - 1965 to present
The bulk of the jewelry made has been made since 1965.
IS IT ALL HAND ENGRAVED
No. Some is hand engraved while some is stamped and in a few VERY rare cases, it was cast. Often it is a mixture of stamped sterling and finishing touches are hand done.
Take a 10x loupe and view the indentations of the design inside the Niello area. If it is hand carved the deepest part of the line will be sharp, not rounded. Check more than one line.
Often the piece is stamped and then the open work edge is finished off (enhanced) by hand. The most common pieces are stamped.
WHAT'S IT WORTH
That is a loaded question and it depends on what you have. If you have one of the small lightweight link bracelets marked Siam Sterling...not much. If you have a small narrow bracelet marked Sena...then you have something.
Obviously all the jewelry has worth dependent upon the price of silver. What adds worth above and beyond the silver is the design, the workmanship, the rarity, and how it is marked.
These are my favorite makers and I'm willing to pay more for these names...
Alex & Co
Yap Kui Kee
One more comment on worth - that is suites (sets). These are rare and expect to pay well for them. Most of the jewelry made was made to be sold as individual pieces.
So, to wrap things up, I'm sure this is not all the questions people have. This was just a quickie, to give some insight. So what do you do if you have more questions? Well that part is easy.
Post your questions about Siam Sterling jewelry in the response area and I will see about giving you some direction. This should be fun - especially when this is one of my favorite subjects.