She guides a learner at a training class in a Beijing school.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Ancient craft of delicately decorating a metal base still intrigues but faces challenges of changing fashion, Xin Wen reports.

Combining the heavy and the light in its technique,

diancui

(the dipping of blue) originated in ancient China. It requires craftsmanship, delicacy, a keen eye and patience.

The craft harks back to another era as kingfisher feathers are mounted in gold or gilt-metal surroundings.

The combination of metalwork and feather crafting to put the brightly colored feathers of kingfishers meticulously onto the surface of metallic accessories verges on the contradictory but it does work, often to stunning effect.

It became almost de rigueur in imperial palaces during the dynastic periods, when ladies of the court took pride in owning kingfisher feather decorations for hair accessories.

But the tradition-and the skill required to make them-has been fading and secrets of the craft risk being lost.