The finely worked silver jewellery made by the Miao people of China has a very powerful aesthetic appeal. The neck-rings and hair ornaments, bangles and earrings were worn for special occasions and celebrations and are an important part of the Miao culture.

Family wealth, in the form of silver jewellery, is passed from mother to daughter, and the silver is often melted down to be formed into new jewellery. As a result, it is rare to find 19th century pieces.

The traditions and skills used to create the pieces are evident in their workmanship, and the pieces are filled with symbolic meaning. There are many apparent similarities to Chinese symbols, but in fact they have different meanings for the animist Miao people ?the butterfly, for example, is worshiped as an ancestor, not a symbol of beauty, while the fish is symbolic of a good life, and abundant offspring rather than abundant wealth. The silver used for the jewellery and ornaments is mostly a silver alloy, with silver content sometimes as low as 20% for the poorest families, but ranging up to 90%, with the balance being copper, and occasionally other metals. More recently an alloy called alpaca has become widely used, made from copper, zinc and nickel. Elaborate decorative head-dresses were often made of this material. These pieces convey a strong tribal identity, and for most of the poor and isolated rural villages, the festivals at which they are worn are very important community occasions. Layers and layers of ornaments are worn over their intricately embroidered costumes and can weigh as much as 30 pounds.