The present set of enameled belt fittings reflects the Qing emperors' avid fascination with foreign curiosities. It is known, however, that enameled clocks, watches, plaques with devotional scenes and the like were brought to Peking by the Jesuits, with the aim of attracting the curiosity of the Court, as early as 1687, when Jean de Fontaney (1673-1710), a French Jesuit in China, wrote a letter to his superiors requesting enameled objects as gifts. These gifts were usually presented to the emperor on the arrival of new missionaries at court and on the occasion of the Emperor's birthday or anniversary.
The present set of fittings is accompanied by a box with an inscription which states that the fittings were for use by the Qianlong Emperor, and a letter which states that they were reputedly given to Qianlong to commemorate his 60th anniversary, circa 1795, and subsequently sold to benefit flood victims in Beijing in 1931.
Compare the style of enameling to a Swiss snuff box dated circa 1792-1801 illustrated in Enamels of the World, 1700-2000: The Khalili Collections, London/Connecticut, 2009, pl. 220, p. 313; and another with an almost identical split-pearl design dated 1795, p. 316, pl. 226. While the enameling and style of decoration may be Swiss, the fittings were made to suit the Chinese market, and function as belt plaques used to decorate a chao dai (court belt). See, for example, the painting on silk of an emperor's chao dai, illustrated by G. Dickinson and L. Wrigglesworth in Imperial Wardrobe, London, 1990, pl. 138, p. 156, where various items such as perfume sachets, purses, and knives can be seen hanging from the oval loop of the belt plaques. See, also, belt plaques with the same construction in the Qing Court collection illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 51 - Costumes and Accesories of the Qing Court, Hong Kong, 2005, pp. 263-4, pl. 167.