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The imperial insignia of Vietnam: the Order of Kim Khánh

Vietnam's imperial history is littered with honours and precious objects that bear witness to its cultural wealth. Among these prestigious symbols, the Order of Kim Khánh stands out for its refinement and rarity.

Gold Kim Khánh, Vietnam, circa 1900, appraised by Gauchet Art Asiatique for Millon auction house, sold for €5,000

The Order of the Kim Khánh, also known as the Golden Gong, is an honorary distinction awarded by the emperors of Annam (now Vietnam) to reward exceptional service by senior civil and military dignitaries. It was probably created during the reign of Gia Long (1802-1820) or Minh Mang (1820-1840), but the exact date remains uncertain.

Initially, the Order of Kim Khánh comprised just two classes. In 1887, Emperor Dong Khanh (1885-1889) added two more, inspired by the French model. Before 1900, it was reserved exclusively for Vietnamese dignitaries. Tháanh Thai (1889-1907) then opened the order to foreigners, adding the words "awarded by the Emperor of Annam" on the obverse for foreigners.

Portrait of Đoàn Đình Duyệt, Minister of Public Works under the reign of Emperor Khải Định, wearing a Kim Khánh

This precious insignia, consisting of a gold plate in the shape of a stylised gong, engraved with dragons clashing around a sacred pearl, symbolises the power and prestige of its recipient. The trimmings of silk thread and coloured pearls accentuate the order's sumptuous appearance, giving it the look of refined jewellery. The gold Kim Khánh, particularly elaborate, is a true masterpiece of Vietnamese craftsmanship. The two dragons in relief paying homage to the sun, enhanced with fine pearls, and the two ideograms "Ân tứ" ("Gift of the King") composed of pearls bear witness to the exceptional skill of the jewellers of the time.

Vermeil Kim Khánh, Vietnam, 19th century, appraised by Gauchet Art Asiatique for Millon auction house, sold for €4,200

This distinction is often confused by Europeans with the "Bài", the plates worn by dignitaries on their costumes, which in reality had a completely different function: they served as passes. These rectangular objects with their three-lobed ends, which have been documented since the reign of Gia Long (1802-1820), were strictly reserved for the Annamese court. An ordinance dating from 1824, under the reign of Minh Mang, clearly specified their use: every civilian or soldier admitted to the palace had to wear one in order to facilitate checks.

Gold Kim bài, Vietnam, Nguyễn Dynasty, reign of Emperor Duy Tân (1907-1916), appraised by Gauchet Art Asiatique and sold for €70,000

The Kim Khánh orders and the Bài, precious objects of Vietnamese imperial art, bear witness to the richness and complexity of the culture of that era. Whether you are a passionate collector or simply curious, Gauchet Art Asiatique can help you discover these treasures.

Our team of experts is on hand to offer expert appraisals and valuations of your objects, guaranteeing their value and provenance. Don't hesitate to contact us to find out more about our services and to share your passion for Vietnamese imperial art.

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