During the Qing dynasty (1644–1911), the status and position of members of the imperial court were designated by the symbols embodied in items of personal adornment. The most openly recognizable of these were the “imperial yellow” vestments, robes, and belts that signified the wearer’s direct link to the imperial clan and the image of the five-clawed dragon, emblematic of the emperor himself and reserved solely for imperial use. These aside, perhaps the most common accoutrement was the court necklace.
The traditional Qing court necklace was made up of one hundred and eight beads in a main strand, three hanging side strands, and a back strand punctuated with gemstones. The beads were fashioned out of a variety of materials—typically a combination of jadeite, nephrite, coral, and pearls—depending upon the tastes of the particular imperial court and the status of the individual involved. Rigid social dress codes often dictated the number of court necklaces necessary for an occasion—for example, the empress in her full regalia would wear no fewer than three.
Thirty beads of imperial quality, akin to those in an imperial court necklace, have been used for this necklace and earrings. The beads, each about 7∕16 inch (1.2 cm) in diameter, are exquisitely crafted out of dark green jadeite. The jadeite has been carved out to such a degree that the material appears almost translucent and polished inside and out to give it a glossy sheen. The hollowing out of the jadeite served two distinct functions. One was to give the stone its highly desirable translucence. The other was to reduce the weight of the strand so that the wearer was not burdened down with one hundred and eight pieces of heavy stone. Each of the beads in this necklace and the earrings, which are reputed to have been part of an imperial court necklace belonging to the Qianlong emperor (reigned 1736–1795) himself, is an example of superior craftsmanship and conveys the high standards of the imperial workshops.