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Common Pitfalls when Shopping for an Authentic Singing Bowl

Shopping for singing bowls online can be a difficult process. How do you know if what you’re looking at is high quality? With so much misinformation on the internet surrounding these wonderful instruments, we have tried to simplify the process as much as possible so you can be confident in selecting your handmade Tibetan singing bowl. We’ve created a list of common points of confusion and ways customers can be mislead on their singing bowl journey below!

1) Singing bowl composition: The first—and most common—pitfall customers make is mistaking a mass produced singing bowl for an authentic, handmade one. An easy rule of thumb for your search is to make sure the bowl is made with only bronze (bell metal bronze to be specific). We have not seen any singing bowls made of brass that are handmade. Bell metal bronze is the gold standard for singing bowls, as no other metals can come close to matching its beautiful tone.

Brass singing bowls are not “bad,” but there is a noticeable difference in sound and quality when you experience a handmade bronze bowl compared to a brass bowl. Brass bowls are smaller, less expensive and mass produced by machines. They can be a nice entry point to singing bowls, as they are easy to play around the rim and less of an investment. The downsides are a much duller sound when struck, a lack of tone depth, and a brief tone with little sustain.

Handmade bowls come from a labor intensive process to shape a disc of bell metal bronze into a beautiful piece of art. The disc is repeatedly heated in a forge and taken out for hammering in a process called annealing. As the team of artisans hammer the disc, it slowly flattens out and the sides begin curving upwards to form a bowl shape. The bowl is further refined with more precise hammering from smaller instruments until it reaches its final form. From there, it is most commonly either polished into a shiny golden bronze color, stained to form a bronze matte finish or sent out to trained Thangka painters for handmade engraving. The end result is a beautiful piece that has gone through many trained artisans’ hands, with delightful overtones and a much longer ring than any brass bowls.

2) Not knowing the sound of the bowl you’re receiving: It is a labor intensive and difficult process to upload each bowl individually to a website, which is why the vast majority of sellers simply put up a picture of a similar bowl and perhaps a sample sound and leave it at that. Sellers can get some professional quality pictures of a few different bowl types they sell. They then list that bowl type and an approximate size (say 5-6 inches) and have a larger supply of inventory in that range so a random bowl can be picked out and sent when bought. There’s nothing wrong with this process, as it’s much easier to facilitate; we even currently do it with two of the smaller golden bronze bowls we have on the site (listed as unrecorded so you know beforehand).

The method above has a few benefits for sellers. One, it’s much less work. They don’t have to individually photograph, record, measure, label and deal with the technical challenges that arise when uploading every single bowl on the site. They don’t have to keep track of each bowl. Using this method also allows for sellers to not actually have their inventory on site—a third party fulfillment warehouse can be contracted to store the bowls, pick out a random one from the inventory and send it from their warehouse without the seller ever needing to handle the product.

The downside of this method is the customer experience. When you’re not seeing and hearing the exact bowl you purchase, you won’t know the bowl’s note or tone, exact size, or how long its ring will last. If you are buying more than one bowl, there's a much greater likelihood the sounds will clash because you have no input or choice in the sound. How can you build a harmonious set when you don’t know the sound of the bowl you’re purchasing beforehand?

At Himalayan Bowls, we put in significant effort to make sure you have a smooth process. We have taken the extra time (and cost) to lease our own warehouse where we store, record, photograph, measure and upload each bowl that goes on the site. That way you can have a surprise free experience. You’ll know the exact sound of the bowl, its note and what it looks like (especially important for the many different engraving designs we sell). It’s a big reason why customers trust us when they are building high quality singing bowl collections and sets!

3) Falling for common singing bowl myths: We make a big point about this (and apologize if you’ve already seen us talk about this), as we don’t like to see the industry tainted by false claims that help sell more bowls. We’ve provided some of the most common mistruths that are spread about singing bowls below.

“7 Metals” claim: Most sellers mention that their bowls are made with seven ancient/sacred metals that are often said to correspond with the planets. These metals are Lead (Saturn), Mercury (Mercury), Copper (Venus), Tin (Jupiter), Gold (Sun), Silver (Moon), and Iron (Mars). Himalayan Bowls founder Joseph Feinstein has performed the most in depth study and metallurgical analysis of singing bowls and their composition on the planet, and has never found either a new or antique singing bowl that contains 7 metals. These metals—in addition to the harm that would arise from handling lead and mercury and the significant cost of gold and silver—simply couldn’t create a nice tone. It is widely known that bell metal bronze (77-78% copper, 22-23% tin) creates the most beautiful ring of any metal. Beware of sellers that claim this—it’s either a sign of poor knowledge about singing bowls or a deliberately misleading tactic to sell you.

“Handmade” claim: Most bowls sold today are mass produced. Handmade bowls are made from bronze, not brass. If you see a cheap singing bowl, it is highly unlikely to be handmade. When 1) a team of artisans comes together to make each singing bowl by hand in a labor intensive process 2) the bowls are flown halfway across the world to the USA (Nepal is landlocked, so the much cheaper sea option is unavailable) and 3) sellers markup the bowls to cover their rent, marketing, labor and other expenses and make a living, you can see how it’s not exactly possible to sell a handmade bowl for cheap. This is a fairly simple logic test—you pay for what you get, and if it seems too good to be true, it is.

“Full moon” bowls: You will find claims online about full moon bowls, which are said to be made only (and directly) under the light of a full moon. It adds mystique and excitement, and most importantly, higher prices. Many full moon bowls are pretty and are made from good quality bronze—they just aren’t made under a full moon. Artisans in Nepal do not wait an entire month to create the next batch of singing bowls. We’ve talked with singing bowl makers in Nepal and they have confirmed it is another false marketing claim. We’ve decided to start selling Moon bowls ourselves—while explicitly stating they are not made under a full moon—because we can now give people access to these beautiful items without the big “full moon” markup.

We would be happy to retract this statement about the full moon bowls if proven wrong, but we’ve seen this pattern play out over 2+ decades of business where a false claim is made until it gets called out (for example, a certain big popular seller listing new bowls as antiques until we and another seller pointed it out). It’s an unfortunate reality in this industry.

These are some of the most common mistakes people make (through no fault of their own!) when looking for a handmade singing bowl or singing bowl set. We hope this helps you approach your online singing bowl shopping with confidence! If you have any questions, feel free to reach us at support@himalayanbowls.com or by using the chat feature, and we will get back to you as soon as we can!

Written by Patrick, Himalayan Bowls Owner

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