China is known as one of the leading producers of high-quality jewellery, crafted to historical specifications. However, many companies have been founded in China with the sole purpose of replicating such designs, yet they disregard key elements. The craftsmanship and artistry seen in the originals are not present in their finished products. Companies like these often portray their products as genuine imports to customers that know no better and are willing to pay high prices.
Many more traders are noticing a trend in contemporary works that also feature conventional Chinese handcrafted techniques that are taking over the market; these seem set to continue to grow over the next few years. High-end buyers are experiencing a change in taste, a so called ‘luxury fatigue’, opting for subtle products. This craze has changed the approach for many brands to incorporate traditional working methods from a long history of jewellery making to boost sales.
This traditional technique involves enamel used to decorate metal objects. A blue glaze is used and separated into areas by gold or silver wires. These pieces often feature intricate geometric patterns with many vivid colours. Cloisonné became popular during the Jingtai era of the Ming Dynasty (1449-1457 CE) – many emperors admired the process so the enamel became known as Jingtai Blue.
Threading was used to decorate bronze ornaments. It first became known during the Zhou and Shang Dynasties when it was used to make bronze vases more ornate. The intricacy of the method led it to be highly regarded however it became less common due to the difficulty of this technique. However, some specialists are attempting to revive threading by using it in more atypical pieces.
This method came around in the time of the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1912) and is a common feature in North China. Often, crafters used this silver enamel for large projects like tea sets or bowls which featured intricate and luxe patterns. These pieces would be created with enamel paints in various colours and fired in a kiln to set. Now, many luxury brands incorporate Beijing Enamel into modern jewellery pieces such as watch faces or decorative pins in unique and innovative ways.
Jade stone is a traditional feature of Chinese jewellery and, due to its nature, sculpted into many forms. This mineral is sturdy and not prone to breakage, yet carving it can be a complex art form.
Carvers have to, carefully, plan a design based on the piece of stone they’re using and then carve it, making sure not to waste any. Artisans used it for weaponry and ceremonial decorations. Jade ornaments were found in the Yin Ruins of the Shang Dynasty, and the stone was considered an imperial gem. Nowadays there is a highly regarded jade carving contest with a prestigious award.
This traditional Chinese craft is often used in woodwork and jewellery. It reached its peak during the Ming and Qing Dynasties when many intellectuals contributed to the art. At this time, engraving had formed a unique artistic style. Many intricate patterns such as flowers, mythical creatures and animals have been seen in engravings. Also in the era of the Shang Dynasty abstract forms were engraved into necklaces and bracelets. The more intricate the engraving, the wealthier the person who owned it most probably was. In this way, engraving was used as a show of wealth and power.
This technique became popular during the end of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE), and by the time of the Ming Dynasty, it became a traditional craft. Many members of royalty then inherited inlay masterpieces. Pieces created by the crafters feature ultra-fine threads of gold and silver that are soldered and woven together by master goldsmiths to create sculpture-like forms.
They can also incorporate gems and stones and create ornate settings for them to lie on. It is often used in Chinese jewellery to emphasise these stones or pearls by framing them. The technique was often used on pieces for members of royalty due to the intricacy and skill level required. It has a similar texture and aesthetic to lace which was a regal fabric, again adding to its wealthy appeal.
Today, there aren’t many filigree inlay workers, and the technique is becoming less popular. However, well known Chinese jewellery company Zhaoyi began trying to save the art by employing filigree crafters and incorporating it into their current works. They also display their pieces in a private art museum which helps re-educate and spread awareness of traditional Chinese techniques.
This craft, also called Tian Tsui, features the use of bright blue feathers from the Kingfisher bird, most commonly found in Australia and New Zealand. This technique has been highly praised in China for over 2,500 years, and reached its peak during the time of the Qianlong era (1735 – 1799 CE).
Kingfisher Feather Ornamentation is commonly found on intricate jewellery or hair pieces depicting flowers or animals and was used mostly for royalty due to the difficulty of preserving the pieces and the rarity of the craft. It is also expensive to gain the materials to build pieces that lasted. Also, the feathers of the kingfisher which are used in the process are becoming harder to get as the birds are being covered by environmental protection to avoid extinction. The fascination with these feathers began in China at a time when poems detailed their beauty and iridescent, glittering, vibrant colour.
These trends of typical Chinese jewellery making are expected to make a return to modern day jewellery over the next few years. Many jewellery designers are incorporating traditional techniques into their work to meet international demand for sophisticated jewellery. The subtle, elegant elements lend themselves well to the new trends, and it’s serving to revive the industry.