The tradition of jewelry-making in China goes back at least to the Neolithic Period, when pierced jade animal pendants were worn for their talismanic properties. More recently, within the last few thousand years, jewelry-like jade clasps buckled men’s belts, while women held their hair in place with bone or gold-and-jeweled ornamental hairpins.

In fact, hairpins and pendants were the dominant forms of fine jewelry in China up until the last thousand or so years. The prongs of these pins were sometimes gilded in silver, while the space between the prongs was often richly worked with gold and a type of gold beading called granulation. Sometimes bird motifs would decorate their surfaces, with gems and pearls used in patterns and as accents.

Gold garment plaques were worn by members of the court. Rather like square or rectangular brooches, these adornments were crammed with images of dragons and other traditional Chinese iconography. Gemstones would border the plaque and dot its interior, which was usually constructed of openwork and chased gold. Solid gold was also popular, especially in the bands of gold called armlets worn on women's arms.

Today, much of the jewelry we associate with China was made in the Victorian Era or more recently for export to the West. Jade has remained a trademark of Chinese jewelers, while other materials such as coral are also carved into the shapes of animals and flowers. A mineral called cinnabar, whose reddish pigment is sometimes used in lacquerware, is also carved for bangles and pendants, while ox bone meant to imitate ivory is ubiquitous in openwork earrings and as beading on necklaces.


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