The word lacquer is tossed around frequently these days, often describing any glossy painted surface. But true "lacquer" is actually a sap from an Asian tree (a natural plastic) or a modern synthetic resin of sorts used as varnish. Traditionally in Asia, lacquer has been used in painting -- sometimes it is even carved -- and combined with materials such as mother-of-pearl or gold.
Still on view at The Met is a nice exhibition, Asian Lacquer: Masterpieces from the Florence and Herbert Irving Collection. It continues through May and includes intricate trays, boxes and other pieces from the 14th to the 19th century.