My Chinese Apothecary Chest: in 1994, it arrived via container to California from Hong Kong, where I discovered beading during my husband’s ex-pat assignment. Serves as the repository for my beads. Handcrafted. It has 52 Drawers, mostly sorted by color.
2017 Challenge: Create a Necklace a Week, using only the Beads from one Drawer at a time. Voila! 52 Necklaces!
Week 45/Drawer 45: November 8, 2017: “May There Always Be Something Left Over”
The first time I ever heard the words Lapis Lazuli (lapis is Roman for stone; lazuli is Persian for blue) was when I was matriculating at Emmanuel College, Boston, looking forward to becoming a junior and wearing our class ring which is gold with a rectangle of lapis as its centerpiece, designed by Tiffany in 1920.
I was late to the lapis game. The inhabitants of NE Afghanistan knew it in the 7th millennium BC. It was Egyptian King Tut’s funeral mask in 1323 BC. The Western world didn’t catch on until lapis was imported to Europe in the Middle Ages where its powder was the choice of the great painters. I’ll refer to my favorite: Vermeer. Check out the “Girl with a Pearl Earring.” That blue paint is known as Ultramarine. The color is still on every painter’s palette, but the ingredients have been synthetic since the early 1800’s.
Lapis is prized for its deep celestial blue color. It is a rock, not a crystal. It is found in Afghani caves, not mines. It sparkles with…gold?…no…with Fool’s Gold or pyrite. There is an inferior form of lapis with white calcite streaks which I learned to avoid. Just pay more for the gold flecks.
This week’s necklace has flecks in every piece of the larger beads. The smaller beads, which I had to add to keep the weight down, is a brighter blue with few sparkles (and no white!). The sterling silver beads are a pleasing shape and further reduce the weight.
The centerpiece is magnificent for its large oval lapis, with lots of gold and a short streak of white, and for the Tibetan sterling silver base, carved with rich flourishes on the front and the back.
While living in Hong Kong, I loved browsing the many English bookstores. It was still British until the 1997 handover to China who promised “one country, two systems,” referring to the financial, free-market and democratically-governed systems of Hong Kong. In my opinion, the promise is eroding.
One of the books I treasure is “A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols” and I looked up the fish symbol which is prominently featured on the centerpiece. The well-carved pair of fish on the front are slightly worn, leading me to envision the wearer rubbing it as a talisman. Fish symbolize wealth which is so significant for Buddhists that it is one of their 8 symbols. I named this piece for the colloquial phrase for wishing others wealth.
When fish appear in a pair, it signifies harmony, and is often given as a wedding gift.
On the back of this piece is what I interpret to be a stylized fish. Pay attention to the design skill of the silversmith: beautiful flourishes, curves, almost rococo flair, expert three-dimensional detailing.
The necklace measures 19.5” and the centerpiece is 3.5” long by 2.75” wide. It weighs 8.2 ounces. After test driving it, I would say it is not heavy/not light, but average. Some of my necklaces are “three-hour”, this is a five-hour necklace! Wear your silver earrings with it. $139.