Inventory no.: 1425

Tibetan Gold & Turquoise Ornament


Gold, Turquoise & Ruby Ornament

Lhasa, Tibet

circa 1900

height: 8.5cm, weight: 24g

This ornament, possibly for a necklace or an ear ornament, is of twisted and pearled gold wire and gold sheet inset with turquoise and rubies. The upper medallion features a kirtimukha (‘face of glory’) mask, outlined in gold and with ruby eyes. The central medallion comprises a double-lotus turquoise roundel, the central turquoise cabochon being engraved with a ying/yang motif.

Gold jewellery was worn by both men and women in Tibet. Often it had religious or ceremonial significance or it showed rank. But many times it was simply an ostentatious show of wealth. A noble woman’s jewellery reflected her husband’s government rank. A promotion conferred on the husband the obligation to acquire ever-more elaborate and expensive jewellery for his wife. Competition among the elite for ostentation meant that the jewellery bill for many was financially crippling. The wearing of jewellery became highly proscribed and a series of fines was instituted should aristocratic women appear in public not wearing the requisite type of ornamentation for a particular festival or ceremony.

The presence of the

kirtimukha and the elaborate use of turquoise is reminiscent of the extraordinary ornaments worn by high-level officials in the Tibetan government when officiating over new year’s day ceremonies, and so this piece might be connected to such jewellery sets. The use of the kirtimukha mask also suggests that Newar jewellers might have been responsible for its manufacture. The Newar people, from the Kathmandu Valley, were prominent in metalwork. They retailed their skills across the Himalayas and beyond and so had a disproportionate influence on metal craft and design across the Himalayas. A Newar community evolved in Lhasa, which specialised in goldsmithing, servicing the needs of the local Tibetan aristocrats.


Casey Singer, J., Gold Jewelry from Tibet and Nepal, Thames & Hudson, 1996.

Clarke, J.,

Jewellery of Tibet and the Himalayas, V&A Publications, 2004.

van der Starr, R., (ed.),

Ethnic Jewellery: From Africa, Asia and Pacific Islands, The Pepin Press, 2002.

Inventory no.: 1425