Norbu in Tibetan means jewel and stands in equal measure for spirituality and wealth. The Buddha, the Dharma (doctrine) and the Sangha, the community of beings on the path of enlightenment are referred to as the Three Jewels, essential to a practitioner on the Buddhist spiritual path.
In the Tibetan worldly realm, the most widely used gems are turquoise, coral and pearls. They adorn men and women’s necklaces, earrings and hair ornaments as well as decorate precious silver and gold ritual objects. This narrow variety of gems in an area rich in natural resources is explained by the traditional reluctance towards mining and the extraction of precious substances from the earth, for fear of offending the local gods and guardians. Turquoise was considered most precious in the deep and bright blues and coral preferred in deep, dark reds. Amber also had a role as a hair ornaments in certain areas of Eastern Tibet.
In most nomadic areas men and women still wear heavy chunky coral necklaces, in the case of women, a gift to the bride from the groom’s family, with matching earrings mounted with gold or silver. In the past, each region had its style of hair ornament. In nomadic areas, silver bowls, coins, shells, and beads of coral and turquoise would be sewn onto a piece of felt attached to a woman’s hair, which was braided into a multitude of tiny plaits. The larger ornament, the one that hung down her back would be an heirloom from her husband’s family, and the smaller one, on her head, would be hers. The women of wealthier families literally carried the family’s wealth on their backs and each movement would engender sounds of clanking silver.
Each region had its distinctive headdresses. In Central Tibet, they took the form of a triangular contraption covered with, in the case of aristocratic families, hundreds of pearls and large coral beads sewn onto the felt base. In Tsang, the region southwest of Lhasa, women wore foot high arcs that served to carry hundreds of strings of pearls, as well as corals and turquoise.
Nowadays, jewelry is much simplified, though the taste in gems remains the same, and continues to reflect a family’s fortune. The Buddhist overtone is strongly present, and offering one’s jewels in exchange