An ivory hilted Vietnamese straightsword (kiem) | Mandarin Mansion

An ivory hilted Vietnamese straightsword (kiem)

The Vietnamese kiem is closely related to the Chinese jian, a double edged straightsword that was worn by the scholar class. As such, kiem are one of the rarer sword types. The design of the kiem is more closely related to earlier Ming dynasty straightswords than they are to the straightswords of the Qing. Highly ornamental Vietnamese kiem were often made solely for parades during the Nguyễn dynasty. Rarely one finds then with a good, functional blade such as this example.

This example

Overall length: 84.6 cm / 33.3 inch
Blade length: 66.2 / 26 inch
Blade thickness: 5 mm at base, 5 mm middle, 5 mm at tip.
Blade width: 24 mm at base, 21 mm middle, 15.5 mm at tip.
Weight: 614 grams

An exceptional example of a rare and early Vietnamese kiem, probably dating from the early 19th century. It is built around a light yet very stiff and functional blade, with two precisely cut grooves. Like Chinese straightswords of the Ming, this kiem accomplishes its balance not from a taper in thickness, which stays constant, but solely from its taper in width. Both blade and handle have a very gentle curve in them, the sword appears to be made like this.

The sword is fitted in a set of silver fittings with floral decoration in repoussé, then chased and finely stamped to enhance its details. De theme of the decor of mostly floral, with stylized kīrttimukha ("Faces of Glory") worked in the vegetal motifs on either side of its guard. The handle is made of a single piece of fine ivory from the Asiatic elephant. It is worked in extremely high relief with a greek key pattern at either end, between them plants and butterflies around a centerpiece of a stylized longevity symbol, shou in Chinese. The plants on the handle represent the qualities of the true gentleman. The bamboo shoots symbolize strength, flexibility, and resilience. The plum blossom, as the first blossom to appear after winter, stands for perseverance and purity. The butterflies symbolize long life, beauty, elegance, and in pairs: love and in particular, an undying bond between lovers.

The hardwooden scabbard repeats the butterfly theme in the form of mother of pearl inlays of butterflies and plants bearing fruit. The quality of the mother of pearl inlays is extremely fine, ranking among the best work of its kind. The maker made lavish use of the most challenging form to do: vines. Some rather long vines are made of a single piece of mother of pearl, a way for the craftsman to show off his considerable skill -and patience.

In excellent condition throughout. Any defect is clearly shown in the pictures, like some very minor losses to the mother of pearl inlays. All the carving on the handle is intact, some tiny chips to the narrow rims of the greek key pattern. Some of the usual dents in the silver fittings. Blade in perfect condition, no nicks, cracks, not even any pitting.

To meet the demands of the Convention International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), this object is sold with an appraisal document from a certified Dutch appraiser of the TMV Federation. Among others, it states that the item is manufactured in the 19th century. Scabbard inlays are of mother of pearl taken from the shell of the abalone species pinctada margaritifera, non-CITES listed. The handle is of ivory of the species elephas maximus, listed on CITES appendix I.

The item is within article 2 of council regulation EC NO338/97 and within Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES): The materials were removed from the wild and significantly altered from their natural state well before the date of convention: June 1st, 1947. It can be freely traded within the EU without a permit, and is eligible for a CITES export permit for trade outside of the EU.*

*Buyers outside of Europe: Beware that it may not be possible to export the item to your country due to restrictions on international ivory trade. CITES sets the minimal restrictions, countries and states under the convention often maintain further restrictions on top of CITES.

One of the best examples of a rarer type of Vietnamese sword: a functional straightsword or kiem. It has a carved ivory handle in unusually deep relief, silver fittings in fine chased repoussé and some of the best mother of pearl inlay work we've seen to date.


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