Hair ornament

This is a one-point hairpin.

Kingfisher feather hair ornament Kingfisher feather hair ornament

It’s a form that’s existed in China as early as the thirteenth century and was ornately adorned with flowers, animals or human figures. The pin’s sole purpose is to contribute to the beautiful appearance of the head. The technique employed in making this design is called ‘tiantsui’ which translates as ‘dotting with kingfishers.’

The hairpin was designed to wobble when worn and the term for such movement is known as ‘en tremblant’ which means that the pin will quiver and tremble when a person walks.

Iridescent blue feathers copying the tiny kingfisher bird were recently used in the making of hair ornaments when the real source came close to extinction. Real kingfisher feathers were frequently used in Chinese decoration as early as the Han Dynasty (circa 200AD), and articles of jewellery covered with these exotic feathers have been found in Tang tombs. In the 18th century the women of the court developed a taste for the large, intricate kingfisher feather headpieces and many of them are pictured wearing these in ancestral portraits.

These brilliant blue feathers came from a species of bird known as the water kingfisher (Alcedinidae) and the wood kingfisher (Halcyonidae), which were common in China until the demand for them nearly caused their extinction. Alternative feather sources included the bluejay and the macaw.

Small hair ornaments such as this hairpin became fashionable outside the court during the late 19th century and were created with hundreds of motifs and designs.

Artisans devoted an exhaustive amount of labour in designing and hand assembling the pieces. Feathers were incorporated into the design by fixing them to a metal surface such as copper. Each piece of metal was edged with a thin lip, the feathers were then painstakingly cut to the exact size to fit onto each separate metal section, and then carefully attached with a thin adhesive so that they retained their brilliant colour and iridescence.