For 2,000 years, the Chinese have been using the iridescent blue feathers of kingfisher birds as an inlay for fine art objects and adornment, from hairpins, headdresses, and fans to even panels and screens. While Western art collectors have focused on other areas of Chinese art including porcelain, lacquer ware, sculpture, cloisonné, silk and paintings, kingfisher art is relatively unknown outside of China.
Kingfisher feathers are painstakingly cut and glued onto gilt silver. The effect is like cloisonné, but no enamel was able to rival the electric blue colour. Blue is the traditional favourite colour in China.
As with most iridescent, electrifying colours in animals such as Morpho butterfly wings, the intense colour in bird feathers comes not from pigments in the feather itself, but from the way light is bent and reflected back out, much like a prism breaks white light into its spectrum of rainbow colours. These microscopic structures in feathers are called photonic crystals.
The most expensive, commissioned pieces used a species of kingfisher from Cambodia. So great was the export to sate Chinese demand, the trade of feathers may have been a major contributor to the wealth of the Khmer Empire, and used to help fund the construction of the magnificent temples near Siem Reap, Cambodia including Angkor Wat. The finest pieces of kingfisher art were reserved for royalty or high-ranking Chinese government official. Kingfisher art as a high art form came to an end during the Chinese revolution in the 1940’s.
“Kingfisher Blue: Treasures of an Ancient Chinese Art” by Beverley Jackson, (Ten Speed Press), 2001.
Utilising artifacts from Chinese history in his ‘Kingfisher’ earrings, Fei Liu says, “The chance to rework a piece of Chinese history into a contemporary setting is what inspired these two designs. Working with antiques is a challenge and a joy, as I am able to take tradition and combine it with technology. By using antiques as the heart of the design, I am able to revive its life and create something which is born of two eras. As a rare and unusual antique, the unique challenge in modernising the three pieces lies in the way they are positioned. I do not simply want to set them into a new form, I want to integrate them so that they become the central focus point.”
A feather-fine lattice of platinum will form the basket onto which the hair pins will slide into place. This will create a removable aspect to the pieces and will enable the designs two looks by which to wear.
Onto each cross over point in the lattice frame, diamonds and turquoises will be set to highlight and enhance the colour. The light weight aspect to the earrings will ensure that they are dramatic but also wearable at the same time.