Category Archives: Tang Dynasty

China: Ancient Combs of the World, by Kajetan Fiedorowicz

When the artist inside rules you, you climb mountains. Society judges you on your idiosyncrasies alone, unless you can communicate why you devoted your life to a love of something. With Kajetan Fiedorowicz, this love was for combs. I believe his artistic eye; his instincts that allow him to understand genius, in whatever condition it comes, from where ever it comes; his taste and class; and his passion for scholarship has made him one of the greatest comb collectors in the world. Hair combs are blessed because he fell in love with them.

He wanted his collection to be a comb museum, but tragedy and unimaginable heartbreak struck. Some scorned him. They tried to beat him. That’s when you know who your friends are. Others never wavered. “Never surrender,” he always said to me.

Today that strength of character triumphed. The KF Comb Research Project announced the prototype publication of “China: Ancient Combs of the World, Vol. IV.”

He said, “Very important for this vol. IV on ancient Chinese combs was to get it proof read and checked by someone educated and competent with this particular and very narrowly specialised subject matter. I was fortunate to get through to the best person, Miss Jing Yang, the senior researched in Palace Museum in Beijing,

“who is also an author of the best selling book on a history of Chinese combs and hair ornaments, pictured below.”

“It has been my honour and a privilege to receive a favourable opinion from such a prominent researcher. And her signature in my book prototype… how epic :) is that.”

“I also thank Wu Yi Shiuan for making this possible.” (Editors note: Wu Yi Shiuan is the founder and head of the Chinese Hairpin Museum)

Kajetan continues, “I’m pleased to report major progress with my books on ancient and ethnic combs of the world. As some of you may know, I’m working on a series of 5 volumes presenting (in pictures) the results of my long time research and collecting efforts, divided by cultural regions. The first test copies were printed and I’m in a process of fixing unavoidable errors.”

Perfect English grammar eludes us all, even those of us who think in English. However, you rarely find an uncompromising purist you can trust to identify every single piece correctly. That takes 30 years to do, and he’s done it. Only love could have produced the photographs in this book.

Kajetan, you changed my life with that Māori comb auction on E-bay. I wrote about you before knowing you existed, and amused you in the process. Then I met you, and you taught me how to see. If you can do this, I can overcome my life’s mountains, too. Thank you for these books. Thank you for your life.

Tang Dynasty Hair Comb at the Smithsonian

Recently, the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Institution put 40,000 Asian and American works of art online. This magnificent hair comb is one of them.


I felt it was Tang Dynasty, but I also knew that the Xiōngnú, a nomadic Mongol tribe who fought and conquered Chinese peoples to form the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – 220 A.D.), came into contact with Western Cultures. That is when gold met jade, so I was not sure.

However, my friend Kajetan knew this comb and said, “This is a well known late Tang Dynasty comb. Open work is less frequent in Tang metal (gilded silver, or sheet gold) combs and this usually means the comb belongs to the Late Period. Sometimes this comb has been attributed to the Song dynasty (960-1279).”

Creative Museum: Stones, Leaves, Scissors

The Creative Museum just played a significant part in another exhibition at the Montelimar Miniature Museum.

STONES, LEAVES, SCISSORS is about hair ornaments made in three different ways. Whether an artist looks at a piece of jade and carves a crown, looks at a piece of silver and cuts leaves into an intricate pattern, or takes lock of hair and puts it in a locket or medallion — each method of craftsmanship is showcased.

The ground floor is dedicated to semi-precious stones on hair ornaments. This Chinese jade crown made in the Qing Dynasty and decorated with a phoenix is a great example.

Dragon figures were male symbols. When they were carved on a crown’s side wings, it was a sign of a well-read Chinese man. The wings could also be upright, as in this example of open-worked pale green jade. The solid parts are carved with dragons, which are also an emblem of power.

Jade stone was supposed to help deceased people reach heaven, so a jade comb was added to other burial objects inside the tomb. Transparency is one of its qualities. Its infinite shades — such as olive green, almond green, pinkish brown, or orchid white — are endless.

Women wore jade on more discrete ornaments. They usually preferred jadeite, which was less expensive and enjoyed the vivid green color against their jet black hair. This delicate hair ornament is for a “liang-patou” (large hair knot or black silk knot) and is richly decorated with gems and pearls. Note the little butterfly with a coral bead on the tip of its antennas.

From China again, these bright pink tourmalines strengthen the dazzle of the bright blue kingfisher feathers inlaid in Manchu adornments.

Amber is a fossil resin which presents different shades of yellow. It is pale yellow when it comes from the Baltic Sea, and a clear caramel color when from Europe. The plaque on this tortoiseshell comb features typical Skonvirke style flowers. It is made of repousse silver embellished with Baltic amber beads. (Hallmarks: H&C 830 S: H.N Hviid & Co in Copenhagen.)

In the same museum case, we added the brick red of cornelian from central asian adornments such as this double-sided Turkomen wedding comb, which is made of wood covered with embossed brass and decorated with gemstones on both sides.

We also included another liang-patou ornament, featuring twins carved in amber inside a lotus flower. The flower was once fully inlaid with kingfisher feathers. These figures are symbol of fertility.

The red garnet and the purple amethyst meet on Western pieces such as these two French Empire combs, one of glass stones, and the other sporting real amethysts.

Our Indian hair pin with opal and ruby, tortoiseshell Eugenie comb with malachite balls, and our theatre tiara with crystal quartz complete this colored collection of stones, a real must for any jewelry collection.

The leaves theme shows the use of floral design on hair ornaments, complex decoration that required highly skilled craftsmen. In the museum case, Chinese mirrors shine like bright stars next to hair combs decorated with branches and leaves. In Japan, nature has always been at the forefront of artists’ inspiration. This comb from Dejima painted with branches and leaves, and our Edo comb with chrysanthemums are perfect examples.

Tsunami kanzashi are hair pins whose flowers are made with folded silk squares.

When older women have formal parties, they favor traditional dress. They love older style kanzashi wedding sets. This silver wedding kanzashi portrays the long-living turtle Minogame and the crane, symbols of longevity and happiness.

This wedding headdress with exuberant blooms comes from the Miao people, a Chinese minority. It is part of a bridal dowry, and it would have been considered sacrilegious to have taken it away from the bride for any reason.

In the late 19th Century, Chinese craftsmen, who were expert at carving ivory and tortoiseshell, made ornamental combs for the Western market. Flowers like the lotus, a symbol of purity; the chrysanthemum, a symbol of longevity; and the rose, a symbol of luck; were the most popular designs.

On this hair ornament from Burma, the decoration appears like a flower and leaf bridge.

A spectacular headdress brings to an end, the leaves theme. It comes from Sumatra, weighs 3.3 pounds, and is worn for weddings. Each element is a flower, mounted on a spring stem, decorated with tiny leaves.

Today, we are surprised to see hair used as a material for jewelry, but it was very common in Victorian times. Bracelets, necklaces, brooches, even diadems were made with it. The British and French deeply appreciated wearing medallions with their initials: charm drops, pendants, and collar and cuff buttons made of woven hair. Medallions were often made as reliquary, which kept the permanent memory of a loved person. The traditional motif was a tomb with willow tree and cyprus as symbols of death.

Gina Hellweger: Chinese Hair Ornament Collection

Our author Gina Hellweger has such a wonderous array of antique Chinese hair ornaments, it was difficult to pick pieces that would express the depth of knowledge and life experience that is present in her collection. Here are just a few items for your eyes’ feast.


For more scholarly research, please see these books, which can be found in our Resource Library.

Kingfisher Blue: Treasures of an Ancient Chinese Art

The Art of Silver Jewellery: From the Minorities of China

Jewelry of Southeast Asia

Chinese Gold Jewelry

To elaborate on the development of Chinese gold jewelry, I had to take an archaeological journey from the Shang Dynasty (1766 – 1122 B.C.) to the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911 A.D.). Looking at ancient maps, China started out small. Amid tribal wars, power struggles and consolidation made boundaries fluid. Ideas were exchanged.

Through collision and synthesis Chinese goldsmiths innovated, most notably when they made hair pins and crowns. Gold leaf, repoussé, casting, moulding, welded beading, filigree, drawn work, and plating have all been seen in excavated pieces, as well as those for sale at auction houses.

This Shang gold hair pin came from a grave in Liujiahe, near Beijing. Now famous in archaeological circles, the gold found here proves that metalworking, and therefore the Bronze Age started in China 4000 years ago, 800 years before Europe. What you see is the pin alone. Cast from a mould, there is a small, straight tenon joint at the front. This fit into the mortise of the pin’s ornament.

During the Spring-and-Autumn subperiod of the Warring States Dynasty (475 – 221 B.C.), this bird final to a royal crown was attributed to the Xiōngnú, a nomadic Mongol tribe who fought and conquered Chinese peoples to form the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – 220 A.D.). The finial was also cast, but you can now see colored-stone inlay techniques. Welded beading in other jewelry was also excavated at the same grave in Ordos, Inner Mongolia.

When the Xiōngnú consolidated more territory during the Han Dynasty, the ideals they placed upon gold began to interact with Western tribal cultures, who cherished jade. The evidence can be seen in hair ornaments unearthed in Xigoupan, Mongolia, where jade was paired with gold.

After the Han Dynasty, three Yan Dynasties followed: Former, Latter, and Northern (265 – 420 A.D.), the Murong branch of Xianbei peoples established control and made beautiful gold headdress ornaments with dangling leaves called buyao, which means “shake as you go.” Here are examples of three ornaments and a full crown. (An aside: I am amazed at how the crown’s design resembles the Dogon chief’s crown at The Creative Museum.)

Baodianzhuang inlay, where stones were placed inside a gold casing, was popular among the aristocracy of the Yuan Dynasty (1271 – 1368 A.D.). A full set of 7 gold hair ornaments was found in Huangpi, Hubei Province in Central China, just north of Hunan. Two gold hair pins, hair slides, ornaments, and the back of a comb were originally inlaid with precious stones, now missing. Because the pieces are not the same size, they could not have been worn symmetrically.

Two of the most beautiful crowns ever found were from the Wanli Emperor in the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644 A.D.), who ascended the throne at age 9. He was buried with a spectacular crown. Artists coiled and welded woven gold mesh, which served as the background to a gold dragon adorned with pearls and 20 other jewels.

One of Wanli’s two empresses, Xiaoduan, was buried with a kingfisher crown that boasted 6 phoenixes, 6 dragons, 128 rubies and sapphires, and 5449 pearls.

In 1521, the wife of a county secretary was found with a jewel-encrusted gold phoenix hair pin in her grave. As hair jewelry was a strict delimiter of social status, this shows a market change. Anyone with access to money could wear gold jewelry.

The Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911 A.D.) started with the intent to carry on Ming traditions, however, the Imperial family came from the Jurchen ethnic group from Northeast China, or Manchuria. They consolidated the most land, including Mongolia, and formed alliances with the Mongolian aristocracy. Their religion was Tibetan Buddhism and included shamanistic sacrifices.

In 2008, Sotheby’s had an auction of Qing gold hair pins. Keeping with tradition, each hair ornament was decorated with auspicious symbols, denoting social status. Many were shaped like ruyi, a back-scratching sceptre dating back to the Han Dynasty. Here are some pictures and prices:

Gold filigree borders a ruyi-shaped head with a pearl in the center. Six symbols are attached to the top by gold wire, including 4 dragons and a wan symbol, wishing the wearer prosperity and good fortune. Sale price: $15,000.

Five hammered gold petals separate 5 gold filigree petals with inlaid turquoise. A winged boy flying in the clouds decorates the pin itself. Sale price: $8000.

A meticulous gold-filigreed phoenix with pearls in perfect condition. I see Ming Dynasty influence in this piece. Sale price: $66,000.

You may find exquisite samples of modern jewelry at

Happy Chinese New Year. :-) It’s the Year of the Dragon. Celebrate by choosing some affordable Chinese Dragon Jewelry.


Source: Ancient Cultures of Jewelry and Ornamentation by Yang Boda: Arts of Asia, 2008

You may also examine

Kingfisher Blue: Treasures of an Ancient Chinese Art

The Language of Adornment: Chinese Ornaments of Jade, Crystal, Amber, and Glass

Politics of Chinese Language and Culture: The Art of Reading Dragons

Kajetan Fiedorowicz: A Glimpse of My Collection

It is my pleasure to share a short film, where I speak about and show some pieces from my collection.

I also recently did a radio interview.

Thank you all so graciously for your time.