A fabulous Art Deco bandeau or tiara made from Chinese Kingfisher Feathers
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CONDITION: minor feather loss consistent with age otherwise good vintage condition
SIZE: Depth at centre front 1¼ ins (3 cms) length 14 ins (36 cms) adjustable with care
APPROXIMATE DATE: 1910-1920s
Great Gatsby – eat your heart out!
This flapper style headband or tiara inlaid with kingfisher feathers is as precious and exotic as they come.
This delightful ornament takes the form of a bandeau of tiara. It was probably made in China as an export piece for a Western buyer.
The tiara comprised a framework of pierced gilded metal with a number of interlinked plaques. The stylised motifs take the form of graduated lotus flowers with the largest and most elaborate being placed at the centre front.
There are seven lotus motifs all together. They continue to the extremities of the piece, decreasing in size and complexity. The tiara has loops at the ends through which elastic, ribbon ties or hairpins may be passed to secure it in position.
Head ornaments of this type were worn low on the forehead, as seen on the mannequin and in the final illustration which is taken from a fashion illustration of the early 20th century. This shows the very exotic influence which permeated fashion at that time.
The use of kingfisher feathers in ornaments, and particularly in hair ornaments, thus appears to have a long history in China. Such ornaments typically comprise a metal framework to support the design. A wire edging is soldered to a metal base creating cells (similar to those employed in cloisonné enamel) into which the feathers are inlaid.
The process of inserting the minute pieces of feather was painstaking. A skilled Chinese artisan would take a single hair or feather filament from out of the kingfisher's wing, draw it through a bit of glue and lay it on the silver or metal foundation/framework. Then the artisan will take another hair and lay it beside the first. The labour entailed in producing these ornaments, and indeed in first catching the kingfishers to strip them of their feathers, translated into high prices for the consumer. The possession of ornaments made from the feathers of kingfishers would have signified wealth and status. Kingfisher feathers appear frequently among the items of the imperial household.
Kingfisher feathers were most used for hair ornaments, other jewellery and hats. could all be decorated with kingfisher feathers. At the imperial court in the 19th century Manchu women wore headdress which was shaped like a pair of bat wings and sat atop the head. Originally constructed out of the wearer's hair, false hair and satin were used instead in the 19th century. These were lavishly ornamented with artificial blossoms, silk tassels and jewelled ornaments, including those made from kingfisher feathers. This art form was responsible for the slaughter of thousands of small birds and is thankfully no longer practised.
Item ID: C14-04-06
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