Silver Ropework Necklace
circa 15th century
length: 146cm, weight: 197g
This splendid silver chain probably was intended to be worn as a necklace or as a waist ornament. It comprises many strands of solid silver wire that most probably has been hammered rather than drawn into shape, and these have then been woven or plaited into the extraordinary thick, long and highly flexible ropework chain that can be seen here.
Reputedly it was excavated in the early 1970s from a site in Pegu, western Burma that included several Buddha images of a style dating to the fifteenth century, hence a fifteenth century dating for this chain.
Pegu, like Arakan, was a coastal kingdom in Burma with a long history of trade and commercial involvement with important trade centres elsewhere in the world. It was an important centre for rubies and sapphires and for centuries was home to small communities of Indian and Arab traders. Venetian and Portuguese traders visited in the seventeenth century. Ludovico de Varthema, a Bolognese adventurer, wrote in 1510 that its king was laden with gold and precious stones. He even wore rubies on each of his toes and that his ears hung down ‘half a palm’ because of all the weight of the precious stones suspended form them (Richter, 2000, p. 44).
Overall, this chain is highly wearable as a necklace. It is long enough to go several times around the neck, and is highly impressive when worn in this manner. It is without a catch but one could readily be fitted. (The ends finish with loops that have been wrapped in fine silver wire themselves. It is very flexible, has a good feel weight-wise in the hand but is not too heavy to be worn comfortably and has a good patina with relatively few losses to the wire-work.
acquired by a British diplomat whilst serving in Burma during the early 1970s.
Richter, A., The Jewelry of Southeast Asia, Thames & Hudson, 2000.
Inventory no.: 1467