Swallow Necklace from the Minangkabau peoples

This is a swallow theme necklace of gold plated silver set with intan diamonds from Minangkabau people of Sumatra. It is hard to date precisely but most probably it is from the '20s or '30's. It is typical of the Minangkebau jewellery in that it is quite showy in that it is made with a high degree of artistry and metal working skill.

The swallow is a symbol of faithful love. In the west it also symbolizes safe return home, but I have not been able to confirm if this applies also to the Minangkebau.

We are lucky to have found this piece. If it was from gold the probability is that it would have been melted down and the gold repurposed.

The Minangkebau people and culture

The Minangkebau were originally in the highlands of West Sumatra and are believed by early historians to have been the cradle of the Malay race. In the 12th century they were Tantric Buddhists with links to the Singhasari and later the Majapahit Kingdom. In the 16th century Islam began to be adopted.

They were rich, being a source of gold which they traded both east and west. In the 17th century they traded with the Dutch East India Company. As the production of gold began to diminish in the 19th century, they maintained their wealth through the production of coffee, spices and other agricultural products.

Traditionally the Minangkabau are a matrilineal culture. A young boy, for instance, has his primary responsibility to his mother's and sisters' clans. I have been told, and this is oral information rather than academic, that before they are accepted as a husband the young men must leave the home, going away to make their fortune before being acceptable to their brides.

The Necklace

This necklace consists of a central medalion with rose cut diamonds. The medalion has a main stone surrounded by seven smaller stones. Each bird is set with four small gemstones and there are an additional twelve stones set into the rosettes along the necklace and in the pendants.

Swallows are a motif symbolising faithful love and a safe return home, and a necklace such as this is worn by the bride at her wedding.

The stones

The stones are hand cleaved, rose cut diamonds called intan, The stones here are very shiny and of high quality. The local name for such stones is intan or berlian.

The difference between rose cut and brilliant cut diamonds is that rose cut diamonds have no pavilion (ie. they are flat with no ‘tail’) so they always look bigger than a brilliant cut diamond for the same carat weight. In diamond speak, the rose cut diamond has the biggest spread (surface area) for the same carat weight of any cuts of diamonds but they do not 'flash in the same way as a brilliant cut diamond will.


Antique Rose cut diamond earrings showing the irregularity of the facets.

Straits Chinese origin

Hand cleaved diamonds reveal techniques of hand-cutting, with uneven facets at the crown of the diamond. The Western rose cut diamond has come long and far, the facets being much more regular, the ‘Asian’ rose cut remains random and raw. It is this primitive look much desired by those of us who know.

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