Monday, 18 August 2014

Thumb rings 扳指

In the 70s, a set of 7 thumb rings used by Emperor  Qianlong (乾隆扳指) was put up for auction in Hong Kong by Christie. This created a stir in the collectors' circle as these thumb rings were scattered all over the world. These thumb rings were made of the finest jade and kept in a exquisitely carved lacquer box. It was amazing that someone was able to find them and put these thumb rings on auction. Eventually an Asian collector paid over 47 millions HK dollars for the rings.m

Thumb rings used by Qianlong

A thumb ring is a piece of equipment designed to protect the thumb during archery. This is a ring of leather, stone, horn, wood, ivory, metal, ceramics, plastic, or glass which fits over the end of the thumb, coming to rest at the outer edge of the outer joint. Typically a flat area extends from the ring to protect the pad of the thumb from the bowstring; this may be supplemented by a leather extension.

Thumb rings were essential things worn by soldiers during war time. Soldiers, generals and emperors alike were proud to put on the rings to remind their enemies that they were ready for combat. Princes while on hunting spree, wore thumb rings to show off their archery skills to impress the emperors.

In peaceful time, the thumb rings had lost their purpose. As a result, people put on these rings just to show others their wealth. As can be seen in the picture below, the man partially hid the shinny green jade on his thumb to show off his wealth. Likewise, Emperor Qianlong ordered the Imperial workshop to make some fine thumb rings for him to enjoy and play with. That was why he had these 7 exquisite rings in his possession.

Thumb ring for creation purpose
A modern thumb ring made of rubber
Although I don't practise archery, I do have a thumb ring made of white jade in my collection. I bought it from an antique shop in the 80s as I like jade pieces that are fun to play with.

In China, there are vivid collectors who collect thumb rings of various designs and materials. The expensive ones are generally made from fine jadeite (intense green version), others made from white jade (of mutton fat quality) are equally collectors' favourite.

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