vintage siam sterling

Looks Can Be Deceiving.

The inside of this bracelet is stamped SIAM STERLING. Two words that evoke an era when Thailand was thought of as the ‘exotic Orient’. I think we’ve moved beyond that, but perhaps I’m a bit biased having spent most of my adult life in these theoretically exotic regions.

In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, Thailand’s craftsmen sculpted vast amounts of Siam Sterling. Much of it was what is known as nielloware – black and silver pieces emblazoned with Thai goddesses – though jewellery such as the bracelet above was another genre. The motif here was popular – rings of spiralling coils surrounding silver hemispheres. Many the wife or girlfriend of an American GI donned a gift of Siam Sterling from her man of war.

Verdigris, the tell-tale green patina of copper, leads me to believe the SIAM STERLING claim on this braclet is dubious. Sterling silver is 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. (Pure silver is very soft. The addition of a bit of copper makes it a much sturdier material.) But even with that small amount of copper, the patina of sterling silver tends to be black.

My guess is that the material here may be alpacca, a metal that goes by many other names – German silver, nickel silver, or the older Chinese name, paktong. It looks nearly identical to sterling silver but has no trace of silver at all. It’s 60% copper, with the rest made of up nickel and zinc. The Chinese invented it. The Germans and Eastern Europeans copied and popularized it, and Thais (who call it by the Eastern European term, alpacca) use it often in Buddhist amulets.

Maybe it truly is Siam Sterling. Maybe it’s sterling but high on the copper. Or it could be alpacca or some other material, maybe once upon a time silver plated. The numbers and percentages aren’t very important to me; I just think the object has a value all its own, regardless of what it’s made out of.

 

siam sterling bracelet