Home > Collections > Collections

Eastern Pearl Court Beads

< 1 >
Period: Shunzhi reign (1644-1661), Qing dynasty (1644-1911)
Medium: pearl, coral, lapis lazuli,turquoise, ruby, gold filigree
Dimensions: circumference: 137 cm

This necklace, known as court beads, is comprised of 108 individual Eastern pearls. Four coral beads serve as dividers. Two lapis lazuli beads—eight in total—complement each coral divider. When worn, the topmost coral divider connects to a turquoise bead (called a fotou, lit. "Buddha's Head", another type of divider bead). This turquoise divider joins the overall necklace to the counterbalance, which dangles down the wearer's back. The large counterbalance (called a beiyun, lit. "back cloud") is composed of a flat yellow string, a chrysoberyl (cat's eye) inlay, two bat-shaped coral beads, four Eastern pearls, and a ruby fastened in gold filigree. Three smaller counterbalancing dangles (called jinian, lit. "commemoration") complement the larger counterbalance. Each smaller counterbalance has ten turquoise beads, an Eastern pearl, and a ruby fastened with gold filigree.   
  According to the regulations of the Qing court, only the emperor, empress dowager, and empress (the chief wife of an emperor) where permitted to wear adornments with Eastern pearls during certain ceremonies at the palace. The Qing imperial family highly valued these freshwater pearls, which are produced in the lower reaches of the northeastern Songhua River (a tributary of the Heilong River, also known as the Amur River) and its tributaries. The imperial court established that the palace had exclusive rights over these rare pearls. The princes, nobility, and ministers were forbidden from wearing the pearls in a casual manner. The largest, roundest pearls were used as court beads or to adorn the emperor's crown. Oddly shaped pearls were used as inlay. Cai Tao of the Song dynasty records in Collected Discourses of Mount Tiewei (Tiewei shan congtan, sixth juan) how these pearls were treasured during the Northern Song period (960-1127). He notes that an Eastern pearl measuring a cun (approx. 3 cm) in diameter was of inestimable value.

About the
Palace Museum