This very fine example of a conch (shankha) ear ornament is of solid gold. It has been cast and further decorated with exceptionally fine gold granulation applique work. A central red round cabochon has been applied to the centre of the conch, and another similar stone in a triangular shape has been set into the tail of the conch.
The ornament comprises a conch emblem, two highly decorated hinged sides, a decorated backing plate shaped as a discus, and a hinge mechanism which still works very well, allowing the ornament to open and close.
It is generally believed that such ornaments were intended to be worn in extended ear lobes. However, other theories suggest they were used to decorate the hair. Sometimes they are described as finials for sashes and waist cords.
The conch is an emblem of Vishnu, among the most auspicious of the Hindu deities, the dominant religion of the Majapahit empire which ruled most of Java at the time.
Related examples are illustrated in Lunsingh Scheurleer (2012, p. 104-5) and Miksic (1990, p. 114).
The example here is exceptionally well made. There is little sign of soldering with regards to how the tiny granules were applied to the surface – a sign of excellent gold-smithing skill, and significant age. There are no losses or repairs.
Lunsingh Scheurleer, P., Gold from Java/Goud uit Java, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag/W Books, 2012.
Miksic, J., Old Javanese Gold, Ideation, 1990.