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Tamborin Jewelry- A Little Bit of History

Antique crucifix from the late 1800s.

Antique crucifix with tamborin beads from the late 1800s.

Did you know that jewelry was used to spread Christianity in the Philippines? During the Spanish colonization of the Philippines which began in 1521, jewelry such as crucifixes were used as tools to replace amulets and talismans worn then by the native Filipinos.

To the converted Filipinos, wearing these jewelry was not only a declaration of their Christian faith but also a way to adorn themselves while still following the austerity restriction dictated by the Spanish regime.

The goldsmiths saw an opportunity to hawk their wares by producing only religious jewels.  While gold was in abundance, gemstones were not, so they used various techniques to achieve different looks for their jewelry such as the filigree technique, “kalado” or lace-like effect and changing the color of gold.  Gemstones were scarce and only the upper class had access to them.

Around the mid-eighteenth century, a lot of Filipinos began wearing crucifixes and scapulars along with the tamborin necklace.  The “tamborin” or sometimes spelled as “tamburin” is a very traditional Filipino jewelry.

The tamborin necklace was patterned after the rosary, early versions of this necklace followed the rosary bead pattern but by the early nineteenth century, it became very ornamental and different styles and patterns came out.  Even the “relicario” or reliquary pendants which originally had religious designs like the monstrance or chalice started coming out with nature inspired themes like flowers and leaves.

“The earlier gold rosary beads were in the filigree technique, which used some kind of spool or frame to guide needle-like instruments in the looping and twirling of fine thread-like wire, giving these beads their name, tamborin, from tambour, the frame used in needlework.” Villegas, Ramon N., Kayamanan The Philippine Jewelry Tradition, Manila, The Central Bank of the Philippines, 1983.

These beaded necklaces became heirloom jewelry and were divided among family members.   While there were a lot of tamborins made of gold at that time, materials like silver and brass were also made.   Sadly today, there are only a small number of gold tamborins left.  Some have been melted and made into modern jewelry.   Since these beads (whether in gold, silver or brass) were also divided among the children, it is common to see tamborin necklaces nowadays with lacking beads.

During the American colonial period, local jewelry became more streamlined and eventually, the more traditional style such as the filigree technique took a backseat as gemstones became the focal point.

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