This damascene cigarette case depicts a rustic piece of Japanese landscape. A Shinto shrine, marked by a characteristic gate, sits in the foreground; a mountain rises behind it. The piece, which dates to the early twentieth century, was most likely purchased as a souvenir during a holy pilgrimage.
Damascene is a surface decoration process that involves the inlaying of gold wire or silver into an undercut groove in the surface of bronze, iron or steel. Another form is the machining of curved line pattern into the surface of a metal. Watch parts are damascened by machine for a swirled or wavy finish.
This type of work originated in Syria and was taken to Spain with the Moorish conquest. A number of firms in Spain, concentrated in the Toledo area, do this work. The jewelry is often made of steel. Patterns are cut into the steel and a thin gold foil is worked into the cuts. A bluing compound is used to darken the background, and gold plating is done on all plain surfaces.
Damascene work is also done in Asia, and a number of commercial American jewelry firms have made or imported similar lines. The birds in this bracelet are very much in the Renaissance-inspired style of Spanish pieces, and the buildings may be famous structures in Spain, possibly Toledo. This type of inlay was also used on sword blades, and Toledo was known for its fine quality swords.