Bhutan as a rich tradition of gold and silver smithery which was promoted by the state. Trözo (སྤྲོས་བཟོ་), literally making elaborations, is the art of making intricate and elaborate designs out of and on precious metal surfaces. It is one of the one of the 13 arts and crafts, which include (1) calligraphy or yigzo (ཡིག་བཟོ་), (2) painting or lhazo (ལྷ་བཟོ་), (3) carving or parzo (སྤར་བཟོ་), (4) clay sculpture or jinzo (འཇིམ་བཟོ་), (5) metal casting or lugzo (བླུག་བཟོ་), (6) silver and gold smithery or troezo (སྤྲོས་བཟོ་), (7) needle work or tshemzo (ཚེམ་བཟོ་), (8) carpentry or shingzo (ཤིང་བཟོ་), (9) textile production or thagzo (ཐགས་བཟོ་), (10) paper making or delzo (འདལ་བཟོ་), (11) bamboo craft or tsharzo (ཚར་བཟོ་), (12) black smithery or garzo (མགར་བཟོ་), and (13) masonry or dozo (རྡོ་བཟོ་). Alongside casting and blacksmithery, trözo features as one of the three crafts based on metals in Bhutan.
It is not clear how vibrant the tradition of silver and gold smithery was before the 17th century unification of Bhutan. Gold and silver were certainly in use and highly valued in Bhutan in the preceding centuries. In the 17th century during the active promotion of religious art by the state, particularly in reign of the fourth Desi ruler Tenzin Rapgyé, Bhutanese leaders invited many Newari craftsman who were skilled at gold and silver smithery. Many of the artefacts created by these artists can be still seen in Bhutan. Bhutanese people in some villages in Paro and Thimphu also gained exposure and picked up the trade. Some of the Newaris also perhaps settled in Bhutan to carry on the trade.
While copper and iron were mined in Bhutan in the middle of the second millennium, it is not clear if gold and silver were also extracted here although they were clearly used. Bhutanese mostly made religious artefacts from gold and silver. There are today many exquisite life size bronze and silver figures of religious heirarchs created in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries in Bhutan. Beside statues, gold and silver smiths created a wide range of religious objects. They include cups for offering such as the skull shaped thoedzu or banza (བཉྫ་), many types of butter lamp containers called kongbu (ཀོང་བུ་), offering vase known as bumpa (བུམ་པ་), ceremonial water jugs called chapbum (ཆབ་བུམ་), cups for water offering called ting (ཏིང་), containers for alcohol offering called thro (ཁྲོ་) and phudchung (ཕུད་ཅུང་), bowls for fruit offering called thokoe (མཐོ་སྐོས་), container for grains called druphor (འབྲུ་ཕོར་) or mangu (མང་གུ་), etc. A wide range of receptacles and containers for religious offerings and substances are made from precious metals. Human skull cups are inlaid with silver and other metal objects plated with gold.
Religious implements such as vajra, bell, trumpets, oboes, maṇḍala offering, torma structures and incense censors are also made from precious metal. If they are made from copper or other metals, they are plated with gold or some intricate gold and silver designs added to them. Receptable to store holy substances called gau (གའུ་) are also made with intricate designs in gold and silver.
Beside religious objects, gold and silver smithery also produced many household products particulary for ornaments. Elaborate door knobs, wall decorations, turret structures were made from or gilded with gold and silver. Men made ornate belts, swords, armours and helmets through gold and silver smithery while most of the female ornaments were also created through gold and silver smithery. A wide range of women’s brooches, earrings, bracelets, rings and necklaces were created using gold and silver. Special household items such as tea pots, water jugs and container for areca nut, betel leaves and lime were also made from gold and silver with very intricate designs. Special wooden or ivory cups are in laid with silver and alcohol jar and bowls decorated with gold and silver designs.
Some villages and communities in Bhutan were well known for their craftsmanship and expertise. Today, a large group of men are employed by the state as gold and silver smiths and a number of private smithies are also found in the country.
Karma Phuntsho is a social thinker and worker, the President of the Loden Foundation and the author of many books and articles including The History of Bhutan.