Filigree inlay jewelry is not a common technique. It's not surprising since it is such a labor intensive and thus, costly one. This ancient craftform goes back centuries and was predominant in places like Italy, India and China.  

But one unique version, the kingfisher inlay, evolved in China. The golden age of the artisan's unique use of bright blue kingfisher feathers for jewelry and accessories was the Ming dynasty (13-68-1644). Designs were still being made right up to the last dynasty, the Qing (1644 -1911). 

Common Kingfisher, Maharashtra, India
Photo Credit : Shantanu Kuveska

The Chinese called this artform, tian -tsui or diancui which means dotting with kingfishers. The technique is similar to cloisonne except that the inlay part is made up of meticulously cut up blue feathers. That electric blue color could not be obtained by other means. The feathers were mainly sourced from what is modern day Cambodia. Not surprisingly, many kingfisher species seriously declined. Today, this feather trade is prohibited. 

Antique Kingfisher Feather Hair Pins, 19th century (private collection)
Photo Credit : Nalin Singapuri

One intrepid Chinese crafter (Aimee's handmade channel) attempted her version. Her faux kingfisher feather earrings uses dyed goose feather, wire, uv resin and what looks like metallic gold style cardstock. It's clear how much skill and patience is involved even with such humble materials and simplified techniques. She based her design on a painting. 

Her tutorial is in Chinese with no English captions so I am guessing at the materials used as I don't speak Mandarin. 

The nobility were the only people who could afford kingfisher jewelry and accessories. The fengguan or phoenix crown was an elaborate headdress worn by the highborn women on special occasions. Several imperial phoenix crowns have been excavated from Ming Dynasty imperial tombs. 

The phoenix crown below once belonged to the Empress Xiaoduanxian (1565 -1620). This fengguan has 6 dragons and 3 phoenixes plus 5,449 pearls, 71 rubies, and 57 sapphires. All the royal crowns including the additional metal work were heavy - typically 4-6 lbs in weight - which is why they were not everyday wear.

How many dragons, phoenixes and pheasants as well as certain adornments a woman could wear was dictated by her rank. 

Photo credit : Michael

Designs also varied. This fengguan has strings of pearls. 

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Original Post by THE BEADING GEM