Chinese export silver comprises objects made in China for export to foreigners. Silver was used as historically it was more valuable in China than gold. Silver was the currency of choice for large transactions and government taxes for centuries, and for a lot of foreign trade. China had few silver deposits but foreign payment in silver from Japan, and later, in the 17th century and after, from the new Spanish colonies in South America. This silver, which was normally of about 90% purity, was melted down and used to produce goods. Many silver items were made, ranging from cutlery sets to ornate vases and jugs, but I want to talk here about the jewellery.
There were three periods of Chinese Export Jewellery. The first was from 1785 to 1910, the second between 1911 to 1948 and the third was between 1971 to the 1990s. A particular style of the earlier jewellery is known as Peking Style and it was made from the late 19th century to the early 20th century. It is made of silver mesh wirework decorated with precious stones and sometimes with cloisonné, and often Chinese characters. Precious stones like jade, rose quartz, amethyst, tourmaline, ruby sapphire, coral and so on were used. They could be carved or smooth cabochons.
Typical marks on the jewellery differ depending on the period it is from, although not all carry marks:
Period 1: 1785 to 1910 – May have English or western letters or hallmarks as well as Chinese ideograms or shop marks
Period 2: 1911 to 1948 – Usually marked CHINA Silver, SILVER or SILVER MADE IN CHINA.
Period 3: 1971 to the 1990s – SILVER, CHINA, 925. If it only has 925, it is 1971+. The silver is thinner and the word SILVER is smaller and contained in an oval plaque.
It is lovely to see some many gems set in jewellery. They have a lot of inclusions and fractures but are still quite beautiful.