In Balinese life, gold is more coveted than rupiah; women can tell a
man's wealth by the size of his kalong (gold necklace). Though the
traditional center for gold and silver jewelry-making is Denpasar, the
art has now also taken hold elsewhere on the island.
Dozens of gold- and silversmiths work in Banjar Pande Mas in Kamasan, four km south of Klungkung. Once working under the auspices of the old Gelgel court, these smiths produce large, delicately ornamented silver and gold betel nut bowls, chased gold kris handles, offering platters, and vessels for holy water. A market still exists for these ceremonial objects, which are neccessary for sacrificial and exorcistic rituals, luckily guaranteeing the survival of the craft. Younger men work beside the older masters and learn the patterns and techniques by imitation and repetition.
When buying expensive gold and silver ready-made articles, it's best to find an honest, reliable, reasonable, fixed-price shop and buy from them. Though you'll pay average prices, at least you won't get cheated. For custom work, ferret out a kampung artisan whose workshop is just a dirt floor, crude wood benches, and a tree trunk with a metal spike for an anvil. If he has a ring mandrel, all the better. At virtually any workshop/salesroom combo, you'll be able to observe a silver-working demonstration.
Ask your hotel proprietor or other unbiased Balinese who does good work and request to see samples of the work. The price depends on the weight, the design, the stone, or all three. Another approach is to buy unworked silver or gold elsewhere in Asia (at cheaper prices) and trade it for jewelry, or give the jeweler coins with high silver content in exchange for hand-done, made-to-order rings, brooches, necklaces. You can bring rare stones for setting—you have your choice of some very striking backgrounds.
Besides the souvenir and gift shops of the big hotel lobbies in Sanur, Nusa Dua, and Kuta, jewelry is made and sold in the village of Celuk (beyond Batubulan). For starters, Bali Sun Sri (Jl. Raya Celuk, Sukawati, tel. 0361-298275 or 298730) has a large collection of jewelry, gemstones, and precious stones. Since Celuk is the first stop for tour buses after the completion of the barong dances in Batubulan, get there before 1000 to miss the crowds. No problem using plastic.
Kuta Beach is another center for gold and silver jewelry; try Jonathon, Jl. Legian (tel. 0361-751584). Also check out the shops along Jl. Raya (Pasar Ubud, Mirah, Ganesha Bookshop) and Monkey Forest Road (Bali Rosa, Purpa) in Ubud, and Kunang-Kunang in Campuan. Tampaksiring is well known for its wooden jewelry, carved tusk and bone, and coconut shell ornaments. Tampaksiring's real carving center is Manukaya, north of the Tirta Empul holy springs.
For jewelry, the ratio is three grams of gold to one gram of copper. For traditional and modern Balinese-style jewelry, shop in the gold center of Bali—the 15 or so gold shops (toko mas) around the busy intersection of Denpasar's Jl. Sulawesi and Jl. Hasannudin. One of the best is Kenanga, Jl. Hasannudin 43 A (tel. 0361-225725). These shops—and others like them in almost any Balinese town—sell mostly traditional earplugs, gold chains, zodiac signs, pendants, and big gold rings which Balinese men like to wear. Here in these Jl. Sulawesi shops you'll at least be given a fair fixed price much faster than you will in way-overpriced Celuk where you have to bargain like mad for a fair price.
Gold is cheaper in Asia than in the West, costing usually only around Rp25,000 per gram which is equal to about US$340 per ounce as compared to $380 per ounce worldwide. For a seven gram ring you'll pay Rp175,000 for the gold and Rp50,000 for the filigree work. The ring will take two weeks to complete, and most shops will even deliver it to your hotel. Draw your design, or select a ring from the shop's showcases and modify it. Tell them to have it finished a week before you really need it. Allow two weeks (maximum) for completion. Take one of their business cards and call back in a week to see how the work is progressing. Check the work carefully as a ring or an armband can break easily, stones fall from mountings, etc.
For a custom order, go to the two reliable goldsmiths in Denpasar (Melasti and Kenanga) in the row of gold shops on Jl. Hasannudin. Another tukang mas (goldsmith), capable of good work, is at Zamrud on Jl. Sulawesi, which is opposite the line of gold shops in Denpasar. Singaraja is also a great place to shop for 14-24 carat gold; friendly shops all over town.
Gianyar has a few toko mas.
Balinese silver is on average 92.5% pure (they mix every 50 grams of silver with two grams of copper). The larger pieces such as flat silver trays, bowls, tableware, and teapots are plated and not pure. The Balinese import most all their silver, almost always hand-construct their jewelry, and rarely use casting techniques.
Balinese silver-filigree necklaces, bracelets, and rings are very light, delicate, and highly decorated. A technique called granulation is employed whereby small pellets of silver are heated until soft enough to adhere to the piece. For the ready-to-wear, cash-and-carry pieces, it is usually cheaper in Yogya and West Sumatra, although Bali's silversmiths tend to be more inventive.
On Bali, the first asking price in a local market or by a peddler is not necessarily lower than that of the exclusive shop. Both start out at equally escalated prices. You should get them to come down at least 40%, and in some cases as much as 60%. They may ask Rp150,000 for four pairs of heavy silver earrings, but in the end you might be able to get them for around Rp100,000. In the workshops east of Celuk, simple silver stud earrings cost as little as Rp2000.
Celuk is generally spoiled by the tour buses; they'll take only only Rp5000 or Rp10,000 off their first price. A fairly honest shop in Celuk is Gala Silver, only a half kilometer from the main road. Here they teach small children silvermaking. Cakra is a nice man, speaks good English (he once worked for a travel agency), and he'll give you a demo of the silvermaking process. He sells earrings and rings, depending on the workmanship, for Rp30,000-35,000.
Silver items in the back lanes of Beraton (one km south of Singaraja) are very reasonable. This is the place to have something made—it works out to only about Rp600 per gram. Unknown to many, here you can buy a heavy silver identity bracelet for Rp35,000; in Celuk the same bracelet goes for Rp100,000. Rings cost Rp15,000 with your own stone set in it (in Celuk, the same ring would cost Rp35,000).
Gemstones and Semi-Precious Stones
Gemstones are not native to Bali; most come from Hong Kong. A new phenomenon are the gem shops opening in Kuta, Nusa Dua, and Sanur. Know your stuff. Visit a jeweler in your home country. Buy a book on stones, gems, and jewelry. Pearls on Bali cost about Rp100,000 per gram, or three grams for about Rp250,000. Look for a nice lustre and round shape. Bali Opal Center (Jl. Raya Tuban 2 D, Tuban, tel. 0361-752761) sells beautiful amethyst (kecubung) for US$29 per carat—a faceted 43 carat stone costs US$1260. The darker the opal, the older and more valuable it is. White opal (kalimaya) costs US$735 for a 45 carat stone, black opal from Java is US$8800 for a 9.79 carat stone, milky white opal from Banten (West Java) is US$650. Also sold are chameleon opal, amber (miklak) bracelets (US$15-25).
The Uluwatu parking lot is a center for the sale of agate (akik) artifacts and stones: turtles, cats, frogs, ducks, eggs, Buddha heads, bracelets, ashtrays. Their first price of Rp10,000 can be reduced by as much as Rp5000. Also bead bracelets and necklaces, multicolored woven belts (Rp7500-10,000), and shells by the tableful.
Rare and beautiful coral plants, with their rich chainlike floral patterns seemingly printed inside the stone, make intricate jewel-like decorative ornaments. The colors of these 100-year-old fossils vary from soft to warm. Kuta's Citra Batu Alam has Bali's widest choice of coral gemstones (they also specialize in jasper and opal) where you may choose any desirable shape and matching ring, pendant, earrings, or buckle.