Lot 1813. A very important and magnificent Imperial pearl court necklace (chao zhu), Qing dynasty, 18th century; diameter 134 cm., 52 3/4 in. weight: 330 g. pearl diameter 9.60 - 10.65 mm. Estimate 8,000,000 — 12,000,000 HKD. Lot sold 67,860,000 HKD. Photo: Sotheby's 2010.

consisting of a strand of 108 freshwater Eastern pearls divided into groups of twenty-seven by four fotou (Buddha heads') large coral beads flanked by pairs of lapis-lazuli, the foutou at the back connected to a green gourd-shaped foutouta ('Buddha head stupa'), suspending a gold filagree beiyun ('back cloud') oval plaque inset with a large chartreuse quartz cabuchon encircled by smaller spinel and sapphire cabochons, the reverse with a gold cloud design against a fine gold filagree,  flanked by a pair of coral bats and two pearl beads,  terminating with a large eggplant-shaped red tourmaline (rubellite) bead with a gold filagree calyx, suspended from a yellow silk tape wrapped with blue and white cords and tiny seed pearls, the three jinianstrands of turquoise beads each further suspending a similar red tourmaline eggplant-shaped drop, cinnabar lacquer box.

ProvenanceFrom a Japanese Collection, by repute.

Note: Accompanied by a Pearl Report from Gubelin Gem Lab, Lucerne, Switzerland, certificate no. 0911002, stating that the pearls are "natural freshwater pearls."

The Emperor's Magnificent Eastern Pearl Court Necklace (Chaozhu)
Hajni Elias

The importance of the present court necklace or chaozhu is immediately evident in the use of large white and flawless Eastern pearls – one of the most treasured and precious materials employed for the wardrobe and paraphernalia exclusively made for the emperor and his family members. The seated portrait of the Yongzheng emperor wearing a formal court attire, in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, and included in the National Palace Museum's recent grand exhibition Harmony and Integrity. The Yongzheng Emperor and His Times, Taipei, 2009, pl. I-3 (see p. 52) depicts Yongzheng wearing an almost identical, if not the same chaozhu as that in this catalogue. While chaozhu were made in a variety of precious and semi-precious materials, with a number of examples in important museums and collections, those made with dongzhu or Eastern pearls are extremely rare. There are only five other known Eastern pearl chaozhu in China, all located in the Palace Museum in Beijing.  One necklace is from the Shunzhi period and the four others are all 19th century.  There is a sixth one possibly located in the Shenyang Palace Museum. The National Palace Museum in Taiwan does not own any.  The Eastern pearl chaozhu is considered to be of the highest grade of cultural importance. 

A painting on silk of an Imperial pearl necklace, in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, is published in Gary Dickinson and Linda Wrigglesworth, Imperial Wardrobe, Toronto, 2000, p. 158. See further five chaozhu in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, included in the museum's special exhibition of Ch'ing Dynasty Costume Accessories, Taipei, 1986, cat. nos. 54-58, made of gold, turquoise, amber, jade and fruit stone. The chaozhu was introduced as part of the official ceremonial attire by the Qing rulers, a design that was based on the Buddhist rosary such as the Ming example illustrated in Jewellery and Costumes of Ming Dynasty, Beijing, 2000, pl. 195. The earliest basic rules relating to the Imperial wardrobe was set down by Abahai in 1636. After the Manchu conquest in 1644, his rules were revised and augmented. The new regulations were recorded in the Huangchao liqi tushi ('Illustrated Regulations for the Ceremonial Paraphernalia of the Qing Dynasty'), an eighteen juan monumental manuscript that includes thousands of illustrations and lengthy text, scrupulously laying down all that concerns the 'proper' paraphernalia for the emperor and his court. Costume and jewellery are well represented in this manuscript for both men and women, starting with the emperor down through all the ranks of the imperial clan and the whole of the court and civil service. The emperor's own accessories are meticulously documented, with specific instructions given for four necklaces of different colours to suit the different types of occasions the emperor attended.1

According to the Huangchao liqi tushi the emperor's principal chaozhu was made of Eastern pearls. The significance of freshwater pearls to the Emperor cannot be emphasized enough. Eastern pearls were harvested from the three main rivers in Manchuria, the Yalu, Sungari and Amur. Hence they were treasured by the Manchu rulers for their association with their 'homeland'. Rules also specified that only the emperor and his family members were allowed to wear this precious pearl that was made into necklace or sewn into Imperial robes. The famous jifu belonging to Rongxian, daughter of the Kangxi Emperor, made of yellow silk and decorated with dragons embroidered with 100,000 Eastern pearls, was part of her dowry when she married Prince Wuergan in 1691.2 Another pearl-embroidered dragon robe belonging to the Qianlong emperor is now in the collection of the Capital Museum in Beijing.

 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 beads, with a bead of a different colour or material, called the fotou (Buddha's head), placed between groups of 27. Additionally, there are three strands called jinian extending at two sides and a decorative strap in the centre of the back. It appears that the use of pearl combined with four large beads made of coral in between two lapis-lazuli beads, and the jinian strung with turquoise was also specified. The crown prince was allowed to use any semi-precious stones strung on apricot-yellow thread, while the emperor's sons and imperial princes of the first two degrees were supposed to use amber with golden-yellow strings, while everyone else belonging to the court would use any stone with blue-black thread.3

The meticulously executed filigree work on the large oval plaque embellished with precious and semi-precious stones is reminiscent of that seen on a number of Imperial gold pieces, including the gold ewer and cover, from the Kempe Collection, sold in these rooms, 11th April 2008, lot 2305; and on a butterfly-form gold brooch decorated with a variety of colourful stones, from the Qing court collection and still in Beijing, published in Zhongguo meishu quanji, vol. 10, Beijing, 1987, pl. 199 (fig.1). Compare also three Qianlong period boxes inlaid with precious stones on a gold filigree ground illustrated in Masterpieces of Chinese Miniature Craft in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1971, pl. 41. The workmanship of gold accessories and vessels is of the highest quality suggesting that they were made in the Palace Workshop located in the Forbidden City.

1 See Margaret Medley, The Illustrated Regulations for Ceremonial Paraphernalia of the Ch'ing Dynasty, London, 1982, p. 17.
2 Mo Chuang, 'Pearl robe of the Emperor K'ang-his's Daughter', China Features, Beijing. 
3 Gary Dickinson and Linda Wrigglesworth, Imperial Wardrobe, Toronto, 2000, p. 158.

Sotheby's. FINE CHINESE CERAMICS & WORKS OF ART, Hong Kong, 08 Apr 2010