The English-influenced, Art Nouveau leaves and flowers motif is typical of Peranakan jewellery, but what’s distinct about this piece is how the necklace actually adapts three necklace styles – the bib, choker and lavalier – into one design. You can trace this back to Victorian lavalier necklaces, and while we see much of Chinese export jewellery between the two wars, we are always intrigued by the Straits Chinese insistence on perfecting traditional and Western motifs into what is, and surely in these regions, essentially Peranakan, and proudly so.
The ‘bib’ is unusually petite, spanning only 8cm across and 5cm tall including the ‘bao’ (dangle drop), while the ‘lavalier’ is designed with two folding sides that wrap over the centerpiece. Its ‘choker’ style also veers from traditional chokers which are worn close to the nape, with this piece worn loosely just below the collar bone. The necklace sits flat on the body, being sleekly thin, graceful.
This piece is mid-century or slightly earlier. Old Peranakan jewellery is beautiful because they are stubborn. Stubborn on quality and stubborn on style. In a cultural sense, we do not see this quality replicated in jewelry from anywhere, no matter how fine or expensive. Unlike Cartier or Bulgari or Tiffany, the style of Peranakan jewellery is not determined by any particular designer. They were the whims of whoever who commissioned them and thus made for them by the original craftsman. In this sense, desired style elements were perfected for the owner, piece after piece, each distinct in the eyes of its owner. An interesting development ensued when each ‘distinct’ design is admired by so and so other member and its joy intimated, causing this one piece to be further fabricated (and adapted) by another craftsman. Such jewellery pieces are essentially products of organic, cross cultural efforts. This explains why Peranakan jewellery remains a distinct arm of jewellery art, forming an almost solo study to the jewellery of this region.
Enjoy the delicacy of this wonderfully-shaped bib necklace, with all its original ‘intan’ diamonds and interesting flat disc chain. Hand fabricated in 21-22kt yellow gold. Only the clasp has been replaced.
(Diamond Bib Necklace, Peranakan Intan Jewellery)