People who value Chinese style jewelry want to know why it is so different from what is found in the West. There are many and various kinds of jewelry to be carefully considered by any buyer. Some of the options in Chinese jewelry would include headdresses, necklaces, pectorals, coin pendants, bracelets, rings, seal rings, head jewelry, anklets, diadems, and even more. In the practice of making ancient Chinese jewelry gemstones were often included with Jade and Diamonds in order to create a truly beautiful piece to admire. The story of China’s jewelry industry is quite compelling. Let us begin without any further delay!
The established practice of jewelry making in China began 5,000 years ago. This occurred during the Yangtze Delta’s Middle Neolithic Yang-shao and Lungshanoid cultures. Chinese jewelry designs started to develop slowly over time. In fact, different and unusual design motifs were employed. These often had specific religious meaning. These were traditionally used in Buddhist ceremonies. The dragon and the phoenix were very popular motifs in the earliest examples of Chinese jewelry. These trends have remained constant to the present time. The dragon symbol is a special one for the Chinese. The dragon represents the powers of nature and the universe. This symbol is associated with wisdom and longevity. It is interesting that the “five-clawed” dragon was also a symbol of Chinese emperors. On the other hand, the symbol of the phoenix, or “fenghuang,” was the symbol of the Chinese empress!
The earring was one of the common items of Chinese jewelry. It could be worn by either a man or a woman. It did not matter that both genders could wear this type of jewelry. In fact, earrings could be very complicated and also quite large in size. Early Chinese jewelry was fashioned by using silver as the dominant metal. In addition, modest amounts of gold and bronze were frequently included in the forming process. Without any doubt, one of the most prized material used in this kind of jewelry was jade. It came to be known popularly as “Chinese Imperial Jade.” Human like attributes, such as beauty and toughness, came to be associated with Jade. The material jade was used as a talisman to protect the wearer of the jewelry. It also became a kind of “status symbol” which was believed to indicate the dignity, grace, and superior morality of the wearer.
Most of the jade used in China before the 17th and 18th centuries was nephrite. This type is also known as “Ming Jade.” It may be of interest to note an ancient Chinese proverb: “Gold is estimable, but Jade is priceless.” In China this belief had tremendous influence upon the culture and also upon its choice of personal decor in many different ways. Early jade rings show evidence of being fashioned with a very old type of compound milling machine. Saltwater pearls were another Chinese gem that became very popular. It is a fact that the color “blue” was an Imperial color. It was used to designate royalty and/or rank. Blue enamelling was used to embellish royal ornamentation. This identification of the color “blue” with special importance is no less true today in China. Blue kingfisher feathers were infrequently affixed to jewelry head pieces as decorative accents.
As stated at the beginning of this article, both genders commonly could wear jewelry. The purpose was to show both nobility and wealth to other people. Women tended to wear an assortment of jewelry. Such pieces might include headdresses or simple headbands. These were sometimes quite similar to the ones worn in the Indus Valley. Jewelry, religious amulets, and other decorative pieces were frequently placed inside the graves of the dead. This was done at the time of burial. Rulers, high officials, and certainly Emperors were buried with jade artifacts in order to protect them in the afterlife.
One might ask a question at this point. What is the most popular gemstone materials used today in China? Well, not very much has changed up to the present time in regard to the choices of manufactured Chinese jewelry. Pearls (both freshwater and saltwater), jade (both nephrite and jadeite), and cloisonne enamelling remain at the top of the list. China is a country that has not forgotten its history. These gems and other pieces of jewelry are very important parts of their culture, their national heritage, and even their own spirituality. To own a piece of Chinese jewelry and wear it with confidence is a unique experience. Knowing as much as you can about China’s jewelry fashions makes such gifts even more special!