|Chinese Carved Cinnabar Lacquer Beads 1930s vs 1970s vs 1990s|
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The first difference is the lines carved into the scrolls. Compare with the scrolls on the Qing vase from the Wikipedia article.
The second difference is the composition of the lacquer. Various sources indicate the raw lacquer sap is mixed with either wax or oil, plus the vermilion coloring powder. The beads from the 1930s frequently show severe deterioration, likely from heat? This is what made me wonder if the substance has a formula similar to sealing wax.
I've inspected the 1930s beads with a loupe, and if there are layers there, I cannot see them. [LATER: Correction. The beads in the bracelet with chain tassels do show layering. They also show spots of a brighter red wax, possibly used to repair carving slips?] Recall the mention of a sort of cinnabar putty being used in the years between WW1 and WW2 - putty usually being linseed oil and chalk, but perhaps a different oil/filler composition was used by the Chinese? One that melts under heat, or perhaps water?
[I replaced the deteriorated beads from the necklace and bracelet. The smaller bracelet bead is carved lacquer, the large fish bead is molded something.]
Attached is a Google Translate quote from a 2008 Chinese magazine article cited in the Wikipedia article, describing the trajectory of arts such as cinnabar carving (and cloisonne as well) from the 1950s until 2000. Basically, under the new Chinese Communist Party government, art students then in their teens and early 20s were assigned to learn traditional crafts such as cloisonne, lacquer carving, ivory carving, jade carving - they did not get to choose which. The goal was to sell fine crafts abroad to earn desperately needed foreign exchange - sell cloisonne, buy machines. When relations were re-established with the US in the 1970s, exports of these crafts boomed. By the 1980s, the pressures of mass production began to take its toll in the increasing adulteration, simplification, and more careless technique. During the 1990s, when other forms of export industries began to get traction, the traditional craft factories became backwaters and by 2000 were bankrupt and had to be reorganized. Hundreds of employees in each factor were laid off, only a core group of masters and technicians remained.
Following is a series of photos showing the decline of carved lacquer from what appear to be actual carved lacquer pieces from the 1970s to the silicone-molded waxy products of the 1990s onward.