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Cover thumbnail for Kingfisher Jewelry Kingfisher Jewelry

The Kingfisher bird has been a subject for artists, poets and philosophers since Hellenic times. The earliest that this tradition has been mentioned in Chinese history was between 770 and 476 BC, that being during the Eastern Zhou dynasty. It has also been speculated that during the period of the first Song emperor, Taizu (960-976) his wives likely wore Kingfisher feather ornamentation. The first mention of Kingfisher hair ornamentation occurred in the famous text The Plum with the Golden Vase, which takes place during the final decades of the Northern Sung dynasty (960-1127). Historically, Kingfisher hair ornaments were popular among court ladies and women of the aristocracy, both in China and in Korea. Traditionally, gifts of Kingfisher were given during the New Year's holiday. During the late 19th and eary 20th century, Kingfisher jewelry could be purchased from street vendors in China, and was often purchased from foreign tourists. During the 19th century, Canton was the major center for all Kingfisher work, and sadly, by the beginning of the 20th century the birds were rendered extinct due to excessive hunting for their feathers. The manufacturing of Kingfisher Jewelry was called tian-tsui in Chinese, which translated means “dotting with kingfishers.” Only the Chinese manufactured Kingfisher feathers as inlay in metal for Jewelry. This technique involved the soldering of metal framework upon a metal backing (commonly copper). Then, Kingfisher feathers were cut out to the exact size of the spaces in the metal framework, and set in using adhesive, which was usually an animal hide glue with a seaweed extract, a Japanese technique. Symbolically, the kingfisher feather was a substitute for the mythical phoenix. Pearls were considered by the Chinese to be the highest grade of precious gem, and hence are the most common jewel present in Kingfisher Jewelry. Precious stones were not cut in facets to be set in the jewelry, they were polished and set “en cabochon,” and gems and pearls were most often drilled through and threaded with fine wire. Gems, wire and metal work were all set to create noise and movement created by the wearer of the piece, with the most elaborate pieces being bridal headdresses. Historically in Chinese dress, hair ornaments have been more prominent than any other form of jewelry. Natural hair was often supplemented with false pieces and reinforced with stiffened gauze bases in women's styles. Double pronged hairpins held styles in place, whereas single pronged pins only held a decorative purpose. Men from the Han to Ming dynasties (206 BC- AD 1644) wore hats that denoted rank and also kept up their hair. Thicker pins were used to support this hairstyle.

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Hair Ornaments

China Anonymous
Feathers on Copper
19th c China Qing Dynasty, China Jewelry

Hair Ornament

China Anonymous
Feathers on Copper
19th c China Qing Dynasty, China Jewelry

Hair Ornament

China Anonymous
Feathers on Copper
19th c China Qing Dynasty, China Jewelry

Hair Ornament

China Anonymous
Feathers on Copper
19th c China Qing Dynasty, China Jewelry

Hair Ornament

China Anonymous
Feathers on Copper
19th c China Qing Dynasty, China Jewelry

Kingfisher Hair Ornaments

China Anonymous
Feathers on Copper
19th c China Qing Dynasty, China Jewelry

Hair Ornament

China Anonymous
Feathers on Copper
19th c China Qing Dynasty, China Jewelry

Hair Ornament

China Anonymous
Feathers on Copper
19th c China Qing Dynasty, China Jewelry

Hair Ornament

China Anonymous
Feathers on Copper
19th c China Qing Dynasty, China Jewelry

Hair Ornament

China Anonymous
Feathers on Copper
19th c China Qing Dynasty, China Jewelry

Hair Ornament

China Anonymous
Feathers on Copper
19th c China Qing Dynasty, China Jewelry

Hair Ornament

China Anonymous
Feathers on Copper
19th c China Qing Dynasty, China Jewelry

Hair Ornament

China Anonymous
Feathers on Silver
19th c China Qing Dynasty, China Jewelry

Hair Ornament

China Anonymous
Feathers on Copper
19th c China Qing Dynasty, China Jewelry

Hair Ornament

China Anonymous
Feathers on Copper
19th c China Qing Dynasty, China Jewelry


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