Pronounced ‘net-ski’, Netsuke is miniature sculptures carved by skilled artists known as Netsukeshi, who have a background in sculpture and fine arts.
Evolved as a toggle and considered a very intricate accessory for traditional Japanese garments, Netsuke also had an esthetic value. Originally, kimono was the standard dress of Japanese women and as it did not have pockets, they would carry small objects in the sleeves and men added the coin purse and tobacco pouches or Sagemono, from their Obi with the help of the silken cord. To stop the Sagemono from slipping, a toggle was attached to the cord, which came to be known as Netsuke or ‘Roots for fastening’. It came as a set of 3 items- Obi, Sagemono and Netsuke, while the bead, Netsuke came to be highly collectible.
Revered and highly collectible to art aficionados, antique Netsuke are very valuable as the origins are traced to the Edo period. During the 17th to the 19th century, netsuke symbolized the expression of society and was crafted in a variety of carvings, inlayed with ivory, lacquer, coral using different materials. Over the ages, the changes in society, expression, themes and styles have evolved showing the transition of 300 years.
Even today, highly skilled artists produce high grade, intricately carved Netsuke to fulfill the demand of the Netsuke collectors. After 19th century, Netsuke evolved into a decorative and collectible as after the Westernization of the Japanese dress, the Obi and Kimono were out of fashion.
From ancient times, ivory has been the most favored material to craft netsuke. In olden days, elephant ivory was a valuable commodity but with the decade old ban on elephant ivory, now Mammoth ivory is the preferred material. But other materials like bamboo, wood, pottery, amber, tusks of wart hog, walrus and whale teeth.
Not only are there numerous materials used to craft Netsuke but there are a range of different styles of Netsuke, while Katabori or Figural Netsuke, is the most common type of Netsuke. Amongst the other types of Netsuke, Sashi is known to be thin and long while Manju netsuke looks like a round and flat button. The Kagamibuta is a lid and dish netsuke which is also quite popular. The most famous is the Mask Netsuke replicates the Kyogen or Noh masks. Other popular themes of Netsuke include animals, religious and mythological figures, daily life, erotic themes and a range of flowers.
So, if you intend collecting Netsuke, only look for genuine mammoth ivory as they will not only escalate in the value as a Netsuke but the rarity of Mammoth ivory will make it even more precious.
Browse our Mammoth ivory collection – Mammoth ivory figurines, Mammoth ivory tusks, Mammoth Ivory Netsukes.