Ornament Magazine

VOL37.1 2014

Ornament is the leading magazine celebrating wearable art. Explore jewelry, fashion, beads; contemporary, ancient and ethnographic.

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ETHNOGRAPHIC JEWELRY Robert K. Liu Vintage Chinese Bangles 16 ORNAMENT 37.1.2013 R ecently I had the rare opportunity to examine vintage Chinese jewelry, in the form of bangles and bracelets dating from the Qing to the Republic of China, that had been warehoused by Leekan Designs, some for decades. I had studied and photographed some of this same material in 1983-84; similar jewelry from the Overseas Trading Company inventory was also examined and described a few years later (Liu 1992). Like all vintage ethnographic jewelry, as well as ancient jewelry, the individual craftspeople who made them are unknown but often the quality of their work equals or surpasses that of well-known contemporary craftspeople. Coming from China, with its large populations and frequent political upheavals that result in large-scale disposals of items no longer deemed politically correct, the casual observer might get the impression that when such a volume of artifacts reaches the market, they cannot possibly be of good workmanship or materials. Such is certainly not the case, as evident from many of the examples shown in this article. Most of the vintage jewelry in this article has been termed folk jewelry, not seriously studied but illustrated in a number of publications, as seen in the citations. Mostly used by Han Chinese, minorities also wore them, like the Ami of Taiwan (Liu 1983: fig. 19). Some rattan and silver bangles have been identified as Mongolian, which I believe is incorrect (van Cutsem 2003). These arm ornaments were most likely worn by older women, although smaller examples perhaps indicate that younger females also used them, although we really know little about their use. I have no photographs but do remember my paternal grandmother and maybe my governess wearing jade bangles. My recent interest in heatbending bamboo into jewelry lead me to try and find examples of this organic material being used for adornment in China, as well as rattan bangles, which were also bent by heat into jewelry (Liu 2012). Even though I have studied Chinese bangles and bracelets for many years, I was amazed at the richness and variety of materials and techniques used for their manufacture, once I had gathered all my images. This VINTAGE CHINESE BANGLES OF RATTAN, BAMBOO AND BLACK CORAL dating from the Qing to the Republic of China periods, ranging from 7.3 to 8.8 centimeters in width. Three are rattan and silver, one with braided silver wire and carved. The flat carved bamboo bangle is silver plated with gold while the last bangle is probably Indonesian black coral, which has been heatbent. While rattan is highly flexible, it was most likely heatbent also. The bamboo has been carved and may have then been heatbent. Courtesy of Leekan Designs, NYC. Photographs by Robert K. Liu/Ornament.

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