These cigarette cases are examples of Japanese "Damascene", a form of design inlaying precious metals such as silver and gold on iron. In Japan, damascene was frequently used to decorate the hilts of weapons. It achieved great popularity in Kyoto during the Edo period (1603 to 1868). During the period which followed, however, swords were banned in Japan, putting an end to the age of the shoguns and samurai. Craftsmen who had applied their skills to the beautification of weapons then turned their skill at damascene work to various accessories and decorative items, including jewelry.
The design motifs used in damascene jewelry made in Kyoto typically reflect traditional Japanese subject matter, cherry blossoms and other flowers such as iris, landscape scenes (often including Mt. Fuji), butterflies, and birds. More than half of the damascene items made in Japan prior to World War Two were exported, mainly to the United States and England, some of it brought home by troops and sailors stationed in the Far East. Currently at auction, cigarette cases like this tend to sell at auction in the $100.00- $200.00 range depending on condition and the level of decoration.