The Enchanted Craft of Nielloware: Timeless Treasures and Beauty of Siam That Never Fades
When it comes to Thailand’s distinctive and beautiful artistry and culture, one cannot escape the “Thom Thong”, or “Gilded Silver Niello”, essence of gold leaf ornamentation, a high-level art form that Thai people have taken pride in since ancient times.
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In the Royal Institute Dictionary (1982), the term ‘Thom’ is defined as “… vessels or ornaments made by mixing gold leaf powder with water and applying it onto the engraved patterns on the vessel or ornament, and then polishing to achieve a beautiful shine, such as Thom Nakorn, Thom Ngoen (silver), Thom Thong”. In addition, gold leaf ornaments are not only regarded as royal regalia, but they also symbolize high-ranking nobility. Moreover, they are also used as royal tributes presented to kings of various kingdoms in the past.
Although the origin of gold leaf ornaments is believed to date back to the Ayutthaya era during the reign of King Ramathibodi II of the Ayutthaya Kingdom (around 1518), the initial production of these ornaments remains debated among Thai historians. Some speculate that the Thai people acquired the knowledge of creating gold leaf ornaments from the Portuguese, claiming that this art form was influenced by the Portuguese merchants, who were the first foreigners permitted to trade in the Four Kingdom Era: Ayutthaya, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Pattani, and Myeik. Among these cities, Nakhon Si Thammarat was renowned for excelling in the craft of gold leaf ornamentation, hence the term “Thom Nakhon”.
The narratives surrounding gold leaf ornamentation in the city of Nakhon Si Thammarat are numerous and appear in several recorded documents. For instance, in the “San Somdet” or “ Their Highnesses’ Letters” record, which compiles the royal historical figure, Prince Narisara Nuwattiwong, former Minister of Defence of Thailand, and Prince Damrong Rajanubhab, the founder of the modern Thai educational system. One of the texts mentions gold leaf ornaments, stating “… continuing to elaborate on gold leaf craftsmanship in Nakhon City. The art of making gold leaf ornaments during the Rattanakosin era in Thailand was practiced only in Bangkok and Nakhon Si Thammarat. It was believed that the craftsmen in Nakhon City had superior skills compared to those in Bangkok, so well-crafted gold leaf ornaments were often referred to as ‘Thom Nakhon’ …”
One of the most preferable types of gold leaf ornaments is ‘Thom Dam’ (Black Niello) – and a good Thom Dam should have a solid black hue without any hint of white spots. Nakhon Si Thammarat gained a reputation for its expertise in producing Thom Dam due to its meticulous process of engraving and embossing the patterns onto the silver base of the design to create a dense and durable fold leaf layer. A renowned company in gold leaf craftsmanship is ‘Thai Nakhon Company’, established in 1932, by individuals who possess extensive knowledge and expertise in gold leaf ornamentation for decades. The intricacies and great attention to detail in the gold leaf ornamentation process. It stands as an exceptional work of art, showcasing masterful design and craftsmanship that has remained timeless, reflecting enduring beauty that withstands the test of time, making this Thom Nakhon piece a truly collectible art piece worthy of admiration.
A very rare and fine black niello basin set on four Naga-legs, decorated with dancing celestial beings amidst flames surrounded with floral vine scrolls the base has engraved with “1 OKTOBER 1928 BANGKOK SAIGON SINGAPORE PENANG HAIPHONG” (1 pc.)
Style: Thai, Rattanakosin
Dimensions: W 43 cm H 22 cm weight 4500 gram
Circa: Early 20th Century
Estimated Price: 700,000 – 900,000 THB
Starting Price: 100,000 THB