This exceptionally rare dish is made from rock crystal, which was admired in China at least as early as the Tang dynasty. It is recorded that among the various semi-precious stones found by Sir Aurel Stein at Loulan in Chinese Turkestan was crystal. Certainly both the Wei Dynastic History and the Tang Dynastic History both mention rock crystal in their descriptions of Iran. The name for rock crystal in Chinese was traditionally shui jing (essence of water). This undoubtedly comes from the early notion that rock crytal was produced by water turning into stone. This romantic name was adopted by Chinese poets and in the Song dynasty the term became synonymous with beauty.
Most surviving examples of rock crystal carving date to the late Ming or Qing dynasties, and are elaborately carved. Early examples are very rare. This well carved little dish without distracting surface decoration is particularly interesting since its shape is a miniature version of a Han dynasty box made in lacquer to contain ear-cups. A lacquer box of this type was excavated from tomb number 1 at Mawangdui, Changsha, Hunan province (see Changsha Mawangdui yihao Han mu, vol. 2, Wenwu chubanshe, Beijing, 1973, p. 155, colour plate 164). The use to which this small crystal dish was put is a matter of debate, but it would have been equally appropriate for a lady's dressing table or a scholar's desk.