The Dragon and the Phoenix
The motif of the dragon and the phoenix represents the perfect marriage in Chinese culture, so it’s little surprise that it’s a vital part of Chinese wedding jewellery. Lynnette Lee explores the traditional adornment’s importance to the modern bride
At jewelleryfirst glance, appears Chinese intimidating: wedding big, heavy and aggressively yellow. But despite this, many tasteful modern women wear it with pride on the biggest day of their lives.
Because like the world’s most famous jewels, it’s the sentiment and provenance that really counts. Chinese wedding jewellery is laced with meaning and soaked in culture— it reminds us of who we are. It carries the well-wishes of those dearest to us: hopes and dreams that have been passed from generation to generation.
The jewellery is traditionally given by the groom’s family as part of the brid e price, signifying that the bride is welcomed to the fold as a treasured member: it is said that having a woman in your home is like having gold. The type of jewellery given varies by group: Cantonese and Hakka families give “Dragon and Phoenix Bangles”; Chiu Chow and Hokkien families give the “Four Pieces of Gold,” a set of four items. Elders on both sides will also pass on heirlooms to show the bride how cherished she is.
It’s also a chance to display wealth and generosity. The bride is obligated to wear the jewellery immediately, which sometimes results in her being draped in quantities of gold that go up to the kilogrammes. The pieces are typically 24-karat gold, engraved by hand. Anything less pure cannot be considered “real” gold in a Chinese wedding. It also serves as a form of insurance for the bride, should she ever encounter hard times.
While tradition is irreplaceable, modern brides have been exerting their influence in terms of style and design, and jewellers have taken note. Electroforming technology has improved the hardness of 24K gold, enabling jewellers to design more intricate pieces and even set gemstones. A special process also enables 24K gold to take on a rose tint, though many Chinese still prefer its original colour. Here are a few wedding favourites:
DRAGON AND PHOENIX BANGLES
The divine and righteous dragon is known as the “Ruler of Beasts” while the phoenix is the “King of Birds,” bringing beauty and prosperity. Together they form the ideal partnership, filled with unity, harmony and balance. Usually presented by Cantonese or Hakka families during the tea ceremony,
GILDED SYMBOLS from far left: Peacock bangle, necklace and ring by luk fook; dragon bangles by chow sang sang; and delicate bangles by tsl, all in 24k yellow gold