The Straits Chinese Jewellery Museum displays an exquisite collection of fine trinkets, clothing and furniture in a restored Peranakan mansion.
Straits Chinese are the people born of mixed Malay and Chinese heritage, commonly in the straits settlements of Melaka, Penang and Singapore, and are also known as Peranakan. In their heyday in the late 19th century, they were a prominent and wealthy community in Melaka. Peranakans adopted Malay language and culture, blended with Chinese customs and religious beliefs, even incorporating the occasional British tradition (they were British subjects at the time). This elite sub-culture preferred an aesthetic that was opulent and colourful, with much symbolism incorporated into the design elements.
Straits Chinese women or “Nyonyas” typically wore batik sarongs, coupled with vibrant embroidered kabayas or more subtle and longer “baju panjang”, accessorised with elaborate filigree jewellery often dripping with precious stones. Gold, silver and “suasa” (rose gold), an alloy of gold and copper considered to hold protective powers, would be worked with diamonds, rubies, sapphires, pearls and jade to create mini works of art often with flower-like motives.
The museum's collection is spread over two floors, with the main jewellery collection upstairs. The exhibits lack informative labels, so displays appear more like an antique jewellery store than a museum, however your ticket includes a personal guide who can offer good explanations, although ours wasn’t forthcoming with much information unless we specifically asked.
Many of the pieces were created by Chinese, Indian and Sri Lankan craftsmen and were commissioned for weddings and birthdays starting as early as the first month of a baby's life, with these treasures believed to protect the child from evil spirits. Most commonly worn by the Nyonyas were “kerosang”, a set of (usually three) brooches used to fasten the buttonless kabaya. A popular design element was a peach, a symbol of longevity, but stars, dragonflies, butterflies and flowers were also adopted. Linked metal belts and sets of hairpins were also popular accessories. Brides would be covered in jewellery from head to toe, decked out in elaborate crowns of gold and rubies with rings on every finger and sometimes ankles. Silver and pearls were usually reserved for mourning and attending funerals. Along with the splendid examples in the museum’s glass cases, photographs show women and young girls displaying their finery.
An adjacent gallery exhibits tools of the trade and other accessories including hand-beaded and embroidered shoes and handbags. The museum holds a very beautiful collection and is well worth a look if you have an interest in Peranakan culture, antiques or just like to look at pretty things, however we were a little disappointed with our guided tour. Perhaps if the museum considered labelling the exhibits or providing an audio tour it would be better, however it’s a good complement to the Baba and Nyonya Heritage Museum (which you should see first to gain an insight into this fascinating culture). Signage in the museum suggested that photography was prohibited, but our guide encouraged us to take photos.
Address: 108 Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, Melaka
T: (06) 281 9763;
Coordinates (for GPS): 102º14'43.54" E, 2º11'46.07" N
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Admission: Adults 15 ringgit, children 10 ringgit.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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