Dazzling design – A new book which explores the culture of Straits Chinese community reveals the splendor and significance of precious gems in their culture.
Historical fusion – The Peranakans, as they were also known, were wealthy families of Chinese-Malay descent who, by the end of the 19th century, created a society that fused Asian and European influences. This necklace with a tulip design is an example of the melange of cultures borne from their history under the Malay sultanate and Portuguese, Dutch and British rule.
Symbol of success – The Peranakans built Victorian-style houses according to the principles of feng shui, but jewelry was the crowning representation of their identity, serving as a marker of the family's status in the society.
East meets west – Artisans created extraordinary jewelry, like this three-piece butterfly brooch, which combined the luxuries of imperial China with high European style.
Flora and fauna – Chinese and European motifs, such as Dutch tulips and Buddhist bats, were often combined in one piece. Asian blossoms were gathered into English-style garlands and bouquets, and entwined with Malay birds.
Style in subtlety – Wealthy merchants favored a sophisticated style, and appreciated the mastery of craftsmanship, such as this filigree of ferns, as much as the value of gems and gold on display.
Blossoming inspiration – This blending of cultures had a profound influence on other disciplines such as architecture, fashion and graphics, leading to a boom in creativity between 1900 and 1940.
Mastery of craft – The busy patterns of the jewels reveal extraordinarily detailed workmanship, which makes even the heaviest pieces made of 22 carat gold and diamonds, like this brooch, seem delicate.
More is more – The Strait Chinese jewelry had a decidedly maximalist design aesthetic, as demonstrated by this diamond headpiece -- but one that somehow never veered into the realm of kitsch.