Exquisite Silver Ornaments
The ornaments made of silver by handcraft for decoration purpose are called silver ornaments in general terms. The Chinese silver ornaments displayed here are the most typical ones, including headwear, neckbands, bracelets, clothing ornaments, bonnet ornaments and waist ornaments.
The Chinese silverware and silver ornaments emerged first in Warring State Period and flourished in Tang dynasty. In Tang dynasty, the techniques were already highly sophisticated. The style was magnificent and graceful, and the themes were mainly plants, and sometimes birds and animals decorated with auspicious meaning. In Song and Yuan dynasties, silver ornaments, formally royal items, started to enter common households and become commercialized. In Ming and Qing dynasties, some other techniques were developed, such as techniques to inlay enamel, jewelry, and gem. In this period, the art of silver ornaments of China entered in a peak era, the techniques perfected, and Chinese silver works at that time was a great contribution to human civilization.
Those Chinese ornaments are no longer simply ornaments, but also symbol of Chinese culture, a testament for human civilization, and a showcase of the incredible traditional Chinese craftsmanship.
In the past, minority ethnic groups lived in mountainous areas that are scarcely populated. The wealth of an individual or a family could be showed only by valuable metals they owned, namely the “silver ornaments”. Even today, to dress up with all the fortune left by predecessors is a way of showing their best in the festivals. For example, the ornaments could weigh dozens of kilos when they are fully dressed up for Miao Ethnic Group in the mountains, Mongolians live on the field and Tibetans inhabited on the plateau. There is no wonder that all the shinning ornaments they are wearing are the asset they have retained for generations.
Most Chinese ethnic groups do not have characters to record their history and major events. However, such records were kept by “pattern carving”. Most ethnic groups worship ancestors, reproduction and the nature. As a result, their wishes for reproduction, good luck, elimination of danger as well as safety and happiness are all recorded in the forms of special patterns on the silver ornaments passed down by previous generations. Such patterns also become distinctive “silver ornament characters” that can differentiate one ethnic group from another.
In history, Yunnan Province in China was abundant with silver. As a result, ethnic groups in the adjacent areas such as Guizhou, Hunan and Guangxi have the tradition of wearing large-sized silver ornaments. Among them, Miao silver ornaments are the most famous. Miao silver ornaments have distinctive features showing their culture, history and folkways.
Miao silver ornaments have three features: large size, great weight and large amount. A full set of silver ornaments include over a hundred pieces of silverware, and the total weight may be dozens of kilos. Miao silver ornaments also surprised the world because of its advanced techniques, great varieties, and large amount of pieces in one set. The technique to forge Miao silver ornaments has been listed as the first series of National Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Our museum held more than 1,000 pieces of silver ornaments with unique shapes and excellence of workmanship from various ethnic groups. From large ones such as the phoenix coronet, silver clothes, silver horn and silver collar to smaller ones such as hairpins, rings, earnings, and silver clasps. Many of them are classical works in Ming and Qing dynasties. The items are collected from Beijing, Guizhou, Guangxi, Hunan, Shangxi, Shangdong, Shannxi, with a time span of more than 1,000 years.
Location: 1st floor, Bai Branch Museum, South Park