Imperial China

Part of the Pearls exhibition.

300 Years of Pearls

Pearls became especially popular in China during the Qing, or Manchu, dynasty, which ruled from 1644 to 1911. The imperial family and wealthy elite used large numbers of pearls to enhance costumes and furnishings. In theory, the emperor himself was supposed to use pearls only from freshwater mussels in Manchuria, northeastern China, the dynasty's homeland. But imperial art of the period shows so many big round pearls that at least some probably came from marine pearl oysters in waters off southern China, Vietnam and perhaps the Philippines. In addition, imitation pearls were used on some objects.