Valentines Day - Why not give PNG gold jewellery

Below - Intricate PNG motifs  made from PNG gold - a gecko, PNG Kina coin & Kundu  pendants

In the jungles, valleys, mountainsides and river banks of Papua New Guinea; washed up by pristine waters and painstakingly filtered by miners – silver and gold come to life when artisans at the House of Gemini   or Kara Jewellers put their talent to work. The process of rolling wire, moulding, shaping and polishing jewellery is same the world over.

What is so vastly different about the jewellery made in Papua New Guinea is the inspiration deeply rooted in a rich cultural heritage which is expressed onto the individually handcrafted gold and silver pieces. In this story we celebrate the shining examples who rarely receive accolades. They are the jewels of this country.

Tau Rupa exemplifies one of those. He is a wealth of talent His superbly crafted handiwork adorns beautiful women not only in Papua New Guinea but arguably in every corner of the globe. His typical day at the House of Gemini could be spent sketching, designing, moulding, shaping, engraving and polishing fine jewellery worth thousands of Kina made of gold and silver encrusted with diamonds and precious stones.

Yet this unassuming 54 year old from Babaka village in the Central Province only completed Grade 6. At 16 years and fresh out of school, Tau Rupa travelled to Port Moresby in search of a job. The only jewellers in Papua New Guinea then were Kara Watchmakers located in Boroko. He was given an opportunity to enter an industry that was in its infancy and had not yet realised the enormous potential it had on its doorstep. Tau has not looked back since.

 Mining Boom
The boom in mineral mining in Papua New Guinea in the 1980s brought with it the window of opportunity for using affordable local gold and silver in jewellery making. Alluvial gold mining also introduced an opening for using gold nuggets for refining and in exquisite settings. Jewellers like Tau were able to use these local precious metals to perfect their craft. Tau spent painstaking hours training under the watchful eyes of overseas jewellers, brought to Papua New Guinea by Kara.

A white shell bangle enriched by PNG gold  

Over 30 odd years, he has seen Papua New Guinea’s jewellery industry develop; keeping up with the demands of the Asian and Western fashions yet grasping vehemently onto the unique tribal designs drawn from a diverse cultural heritage. As the head jeweller at the House of Gemini, Tau prefers making jewellery using traditional designs which are influenced by his Central province heritage. Even though the Bird Of Paradise and the National Crest cast in gold and silver are very popular, the biggest sellers are jewellery featuring traditional PNG designs.

Every piece of jewellery has its own character and personality depending on who’s wearing it. Usually, it is shrouded in myth and intimacy. PNG jewellery is heavily influenced by tribal rituals, colourful body decorations, patterns and designs as well as implements used in daily lives. The designs are created against a backdrop of prolific oral history where legends and folklore represent tribal identity. The designs in the jewellery settings bring to the fore the brilliance in the craftsmen’s interpretations.

Masks from the Sepik, lime pots from the Trobriands, garamut drums from Manus, bilum with a baby, lagatoi from Central, and mud man from Goroka are just some of the motifs that can be identified at the House of Gemini and Kara jewellery shops. These motifs are engraved or moulded on just about anything from brooches, bracelets, ear rings, pendants to tie pins. Even the type of links found on the chains for necklaces or bracelets are uniquely Papua New Guinean. Many of the gold and silver jewellery pieces are intricately set with a variety of gemstones, coloured pearls, local black coral and shells. Carved pig tusks and crocodile teeth lined with gold inlay are among the highly priced. 

 PNG Motifs are Popular

It is not uncommon for customers to be fussy about the type of jewellery they want. And who better to be attentive to the finer detail than women jewellers. They are in an enviable position of soldering and transforming what looks like a humble rusty piece of wire into a gleaming gold item. At the end of the day, it’s seeing the expression of delight on the face of a customer that gives them much satisfaction.

Charles Vrettas explained of Kara, “We wanted to make jewellery that was different yet expressive of the daily lives and habits of Papua New Guineans. For many expatriates, we have provided them the opportunity to take away mementoes of where they have lived.”
“Jewellery is something that memorializes an occasion. It is a memory of one’s life. People who have lived or visited PNG and still have many fond memories of this country, have taken a piece of PNG away – through their jewellery. It doesn’t matter to them what price they have paid. Their jewellery is valued by the memories they have of Papua New Guinea.”

The benefits of the increase in the world gold prices also trickle down to the jewellers in the country. Conversely the fluctuations of gold prices are reflected in the price of jewellery in PNG.

Kathy Johnstone, owner of the House of Gemini explained that the price of her gold jewellery is determined by the United States gold market.

“The price of each jewellery is different because we never ever make the same piece. Each piece of jewellery is like a fingerprint. The basic design or look may be the same, for example a mask may look like the next mask. But each item is handcrafted individually and we price each one according to its weight,” Kathy said.

She added that Papua New Guinea gold jewellery is refined from 99.99 % pure gold.

“In this case, every piece of gold jewellery a customer buys should be seen as an investment,” she stated.

Jewellery from Papua New Guinea is certainly something precious to treasure. It is a genuine article of finesse.
You are definitely privileged to own it. And you should wear it close to your heart.

copyright Euralia Paine 



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