Tuesday, June 8

Royal Poise

Only two months ago, one of the pearl treasures of China changed its proud owner. The Emperor's Eastern Pearl Court Necklace (Chaozhu), incorporating 108 flawless natural freshwater pearls, gold, coral, and other gemstones, was sold for a staggering price of US$ 8.7 million at Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong. Truly a world breaking record! 134 cm long and with pearls measuring from 9.6 to 10.65 mm, this necklace belonged to the emperor Yongzheng from the 18th century Qing Dynasty. 

© Sotheby's

The pearl court necklace, incorporating a Buddhist rosary design, had been introduced as a part of the official ceremonial dress by the Qing Dynasty in 1636.




The portrait of the Yongzheng emperor wearing formal court attire depicts him wearing almost identical, if not the same necklace as the one that has been auctioned. There are only five other known Eastern pearl chaozhu in China, all located in the Palace Museum in Beijing. The Eastern pearl necklace is considered to be of the highest cultural significance.


© Sotheby's

Especially the incorporation of freshwater pearls into the necklace was of a particular importance to the Emperor. At that time, pearls we harvested from three main rivers in Manchuria and their use in imperial attire was perceived as a symbol of Dynasty’s link to their homeland. And not only that – the rules specified that only the emperor and his family members were allowed to incorporate pearls into the necklaces or robes. Pearls were the symbol of royalty and power. 

© Sotheby's

Strict rules also applied to the number of pearls used for the making of chaozhu as well as the sequence of the setting of the beads. Necklaces consisted of 108 pearls, with a bead of a different colour or material placed between groups of 27. Additionally, the necklace required three strands extending at two sides and a decorative strap in the centre of the back.

Although almost 300 years old, the necklace still dazzles anyone who looks at it. The intricate gold work, faultless proportions, and the soft gleaming of imperial pearls are the perfect representation of the royal poise.

Reuters video from the auction:
Chinese Imperial treasures break world records at Hong Kong auction

Sources:
Margaret Medley, 1982, The Illustrated Regulations for Ceremonial Paraphernalia of the Ch'ing Dynasty, London
Gary Dickinson and Linda Wrigglesworth, 2000, Imperial Wardrobe, Toronto
Hajni Elias, 2010, The Emperor's Magnificent Eastern Pearl Court Necklace, Hong Kong

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