Jewelry Spotlight: Karen Cups

December 01, 2015 0 Comments

Strikingly large fronts adorn these expertly made silver plugs

Silver Hill Tribe Karen Cup Ear Plugs

These plugs are one of my favorite Southeast Asian styles and this specific pair is one of my prized collection pieces. I love the shape, and the patina these have taken on over the years is exquisite. These plugs are worn by women of the Karen, a collection of ethnic sub-groups (sometimes referred to as "Hill Tribes") from the Golden Triangle region of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar (Burma).

Thai Hill Tribe Silver Map

The Karen are masterful metalsmiths and wear a wide range of silver plugs, earrings, and bangles. Silver is considered currency and most jewelry is created from it, thus silver jewelry is both craft and a display of wealth.

These plugs were collected in Northern Thailand some time ago, and the condition of the thread which binds the pair for safe-keeping indicates that they had been unworn and stored since long before I purchased them. They are pre-Vietnam war but I am unsure of an actual age.

Referred to as "cup" or "drum" earrings, these particular plugs have a very large front flare that many may recognize as being similar to the trumpet style flares of Prehispanic cultures. The rear flare is also quite large and it's my understanding that pieces like this were worn for long periods of time, so the large flares help make them daily wearable while doing normal village tasks without risk of loss.

Dimensions
Wear Size: 21mm
Front Flare: 47mm
Rear Flare: 28mm
Overall Width: 20mm

Karen Silver Cup Ear Plugs Side View

Made with basic hand-tools, these pieces were formed and soldered from two pieces of very thin silver sheet. The first sheet was used to create the overall shape of the front and rear flares, establishing a large hollow funnel shape (the front flare) and rear flare. The second piece of silver sheet is actually an overlay which closes the front. You can see the edge of that sheet wrapped tightly against the outside edge of the front flare.

Karen Cup Silver Ear Plugs Rear View

Viewed from the rear it's evident that the entire front face is actually hollow. The rear of the bowl you see does not touch the interior - there is an air space that gets thinner and thinner until the two sheets meet at the front edge, where they are soldered and folded.

Unfortunately I have not found any good photographs of this exact style being worn online, but great photographs of Karen women wearing the cup style (and the marvelous brightly colored clothing their tribe is known for) can be found in my suggested resources below.

If you enjoyed this little jewelry history lesson or have any feedback, please don't hesitate to let us know. Thanks for reading, and I look forward to next time!

Jared Karnes
Owner/Jeweler
Onetribe

Resources for further reading

Peoples of the Golden Triangle

Peoples of the Golden Triangle
Paul and Elaine Lewis
ISBN: 0-500-97472-1

Quite possibly the best book out there on the rich cultures of the Golden Triangle. Divided into the six primary cultures from the area, the book covers each culture's clothing and ornamentation, village social structure and rituals. There are several gorgeous color spreads of crafts, beads, jewelry, clothing, and ritual items that serve as an invaluable resource catalog of cultural objects. This book is a must-have for anyone interested in Southeast Asian culture or anyone putting together a collection of body modification related texts.

Photographs of Karen Cups can be found on the following pages:
61 - In spread with various adornments
71 - Wear photo of Karen woman
83 - Wear photos of Karen women
91 - Wear photo, Karen woman with child
93 - Multiple wear photos
Check your favorite local book shop (or available online from most major retailers)

The Vanishing Tribes of Burma

The Vanishing Tribes of Burma
Richard K. Diran
ISBN: 0-8174-5559-0

A beautiful book written by traveling gemologist and photographer Richard Diran, this text details many of the ethnic subgroups living in the remote mountains of Myanmar (Burma). While 'Peoples of the Golden Triangle' provides a wealth of cultural information, Diran's book devotes several photograph-heavy pages to each culture, telling their stories visually. Each section starts with a brief cultural overview, followed by wonderful portraits and village photos with supporting text. The last chapter is an Ethnographical History of the peoples of Myanmar which includes supporting information on geographical regions within Myanmar and a social and political history with antique photographs. I consider this text to be a great photographic companion for studying this region of the world.

Photographs of Karen Cups can be found on the following pages:
121 - Wear photo, full page
122 - Wear photo, mostly obscured
Side note: this text also includes a very good section on the Paduang peoples - you may know the women of this tribe as the "long neck" or "giraffe" women, famous for the rings which make their necks appear stretched.

Check your favorite local book shop (or available online from most major retailers)








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Sizing Chart
Size chart includes the sizes we make, and default flare size & wearing lengths.
We are happy to make pieces in odd sizes or with custom flares or wearing lengths.
Jewelry Size Flare Size Wearing Length
1.0mm (18g) 1-1.5mm 9mm
1.3mm (16g)
1-1.5mm
9mm
1.5mm (14g)
1-1.5mm
9mm
2.0mm (12g)
1-1.5mm
9mm
2.5mm (10g)
1-1.5mm
9mm
3.0mm (8g)
1-1.5mm
9mm
4.0mm (6g)
1-1.5mm
9mm
5.0mm (4g)
1-1.5mm
9mm
6.0mm
1-1.5mm
9mm
6.5mm (2g)
1-1.5mm
9mm
7.0mm (1g)
1-1.5mm
9mm
8.0mm (0g)
1-1.5mm
9mm
9.0mm (00g)
1-1.5mm
9mm
10mm
1-1.5mm
10mm
11mm (7/16")
1-1.5mm
10mm
12mm
1-1.5mm
10mm
13mm (1/2")
1-1.5mm
10mm
14mm (9/16")
1-1.5mm
10mm
15mm
1-1.5mm
10mm
16mm (5/8")
1-1.5mm
10mm
17mm (11/16")
1-1.5mm
10mm
18mm
1-1.5mm
10mm
19mm (3/4")
1-1.5mm
11mm
20mm (13/16")
1-1.5mm
11mm
21mm
1-1.5mm
11mm
22mm (7/8")
1-1.5mm
11mm
23mm
1-1.5mm
11mm
24mm (15/16")
1-1.5mm
11mm
25mm
1-1.5mm
11mm
26mm (1")
1-1.5mm
11mm
27mm (1 1/16")
1-1.5mm
12mm
28mm
1-1.5mm
12mm
29mm (1 1/8")
1-1.5mm
12mm
30mm (1 3/16")
1-1.5mm
12mm
31mm
1-1.5mm
12mm
32mm (1 1/4")
1-1.5mm
12mm
33mm (1 5/16")
1-1.5mm
12mm
34mm
1-1.5mm
12mm
35mm (1 3/8") 
1-1.5mm
12mm
36mm
1-1.5mm
12mm
37mm (1 7/16")
1-1.5mm
12mm
38mm (1 1/2") 1.5-2mm 13mm
39mm
1.5-2mm
13mm
40mm (1 9/16")
1.5-2mm
13mm
41mm (1 5/8")
1.5-2mm
13mm
42mm
1.5-2mm
13mm
43mm (1 11/16")
1.5-2mm
13mm
44mm (1 3/4")
1.5-2mm
13mm
45mm
1.5-2mm
13mm
46mm (1 13/16")
1.5-2mm
13mm
47mm
1.5-2mm
13mm
48mm (1 7/8")
1.5-2mm
13mm
49mm (1 15/16")
1.5-2mm
13mm
50mm
1.5-2mm
13mm
51mm (2")
1.5-2mm
13mm

Wearing length is the area of the jewelry that fits inside your piercing. 

Overall length (sometimes confused with wearing length) is the total measurement of the jewelry from face to face, including any additional flare or face area.

Diagram of jewelry styles with wearing length marked in green and overall length marked in red.

1. Flat face double flared plug. Wearing length is measured from the inside of the flare edges. Overall length is measured from face to face.

2. Convex face double flared plug. Wearing length is measured from the inside of the flare edges. Overal length is measured from face to face.

3. Flat face double flared plug with flat flares. Wearing length is measured from inside the flare edges (the piercing cannot rest on the flat flare areas). Overall length is measured face to face.

4. Trumpet flare style plug. The dotted line denotes where the wearing surface ends on the front, because the larger portion of the slope cannot fit inside the piercing. Wearing surface is measured from inside the rear flare edge to the area on the front flare with the same diameter measurement. Overall length is measured from face to face.

5. Sloped single flare plug. Wearing length is measured from where the slope of the flare ends to the end of the plug. Overall length is measured from face to face.

6. Top-hat style single flare with convex face. Wearing length is measured from the inside flare corner to the end of the plug. Overall length is measured from face to face.

7. Top-hat style single flare with curved rear. Wearing length is measured from the inside flare corner to the beginning of the curve (the piercing cannot rest on the slope). Overall length is measured from face to face.

8. Top-hat style single flare with groove for an o-ring. Wearing length is measured from the inside flare corner to the groove (the piercing cannot rest on the groove). Overall length is measured from face to face.

9. Labret (round or oval) with a standard concave t-back. Wearing length is measured from where the wearing shaft meets the wing to the end of the flat portion (the piercing cannot rest on the slope).

Overall length is always longer than the wearing surface because it includes other sections of the jewelry that do not rest inside the piercing. If you are ordering a piece of jewerly and you specify an overall length instead of a wearing length, your jewelry will not fit properly. Order using "overall length" at your own risk. Knowing your ideal wearing length, which can change as you stretch your piercings, ensures you're able to order jewelry that will fit well from every vendor, every time.