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This fine necklace of perfectly spherical beads of semi-precious stones separated by tiny gilded silver spacer beads, and a large pendant silver-gilt butterfly decorated with applied gilded filigree and jadeite, spinel and rose quartz cabochons. The necklace closes with a box clasp that is decorated with filigree.
The butterfly is a common motif in traditional Chinese jewellery, textiles and porcelain. It has several symbolic meanings including longevity, good fortune and happiness.
Jewellery such as this example seem to have been produced in China in the early 20th century perhaps in the aftermath of the fall of the Qing Dynasty. At that time, court jewellers no longer were required, and thousands of officials attached to the Court seemed to have sold off their jewellery, much of which was used as part of Court dress. This created a large, secondary market in repurposed gems and jewellery, as well as items that could be broken down and reassembled into jewellery more suitable for Western tastes. This accorded with the modernisation of China but also with newly-found export markets for such jewellery.
The back of the clasp is stamped ‘silver’. The back of the butterfly is stamped ‘silver’ and ‘China’ (with the ‘N’ reversed suggesting a degree of unfamiliarity with letters.)
The necklace and pendant are in excellent, wearable condition. The butterfly also has a brooch pin on its reverse so originally could also have been worn as a brooch.
Duda, M., Four Centuries of Silver: Personal Adornment in the Qing Dynasty and After, Times Editions, 2002.
Herridge, E., Bringing Heaven to Earth: Chinese Silver Jewellery and Ornament in the Late Qing Dynasty, Ianthe Press/Paul Holberton Publishing, 2016.
National Palace Museum, Royal Style: Qing Dynasty and Western Court Jewellery, 2012.
Nikles van Osselt, E., Five Blessings: Coded Messages in Chinese Art, Foundation Baur/5 Continents, 2011.