To celebrate the 100th anniversary of receiving their first piece, the Art Gallery of South Australia are showing their full collection of over 300 netsukes, inros and other Japanese fine carvings.
Netsukes were designed as a counterweight or stopper for Japanese men to attach a cord and small container which was then threaded behind their belts.
Originally built for a purpose, they soon became an ornate expression of wealth in the 17th to 19th Century.
"They were like bling - they were just worn as fashion accessories," curator Jennifer Harris explained.
With the traditional Japanese kimono not having pockets, the netsuke and inro were originally designed to allow the men to carry items such as tools, tobacco and smoking pipes.
The minute items progressed from bland to ornate pieces of art as they became a display of social status.
Artists previously tasked with creating ornaments for Buddhist temples began to carve the netsuke after their one-time employers fell out of political favour.
Netsukes were traditionally made from ivory, box wood, porcelain, stag antler and 'vegetable ivory', with one item on display made of cast iron.
"Ivory was considered expensive and exotic, but it provides the best medium for carving."
One of the gallery's netsuke, a collection of gingko nuts carved in one piece of ivory, show intricate microscopic carvings of houses, landscapes, bridges and people within the shells of the nuts.
"The detail of the carving, in such a small object, is extraordinary," Jennifer said.
One nut, the size of a small fingernail, reveals a temple, landscape, bridge and tree, all just millimetres in height.
145 of the netsuke in the Art Gallery's collections were donated by local collector Max Carter AO.
Netsuke and Other Miniatures will be on display at the Art Gallery of South Australia until 31 August 2014."