This netsuke is a nature study by the artist Cho Unsai Jugyoku. Jugyoku lived, or at the very least worked, during the Meiji period, which was between 1868 and 1912. The netsuke itself is made out of two materials. It depicts a snail on a small gourd which is scarcely larger than the snail itself. The gourd is made from bone, which is lightly stained green. It contrasts beautifully with the snail, which is carved from a pale buffalo horn, beautifully translucent, showing light through.
Jugyoku enjoyed, firstly, this very precise observation of nature, but he also enjoyed the contrast of the materials. This feature is very typical of him as an artist. He used many materials in his carvings and enjoyed adding contrast and visual interest by introducing to those materials inlays of further materials. This is typical of both him as an artist and of the Meiji period. By that time, the Japanese were moving towards discarding the kimono, their traditional form of dress, and adopting western clothes. This meant that netsuke were already in danger of passing out of fashion and started to become of interest to people abroad. For this reason, this netsuke was probably conceived more as a miniature work of art than as a practical object for daily use.