• The Eternal Jewel
• The Jewel of Heaven
• What Is It?
• The Most Difficult Stone
• How Much Should It Cost?
• How To Buy It
The Eternal Jewel
“. . . .JADE IS A POSSESSION TO BE CHERISHED BY ANYONE WHO CAN FIND IT OR BUY IT OR STEAL IT. Chinese women ask for jade ornaments for their hair, and old men keep in their hand a piece of cool jade, so smooth that it seems soft to touch. Rich men buy jades instead of putting their money in banks for jade grows more beautiful with age. The poorest courtesan has her bit of jade. . . .because jade is the most sumptuous jewel against a woman’s flesh. . . .”
Pearl S. Buck
My Several Worlds
The Jewel of Heaven
Jade has been accepted by the Chinese as the bridge between man “as he is” and man “as he ought to be”. It was the link that connected Heaven and Earth, the bridge from life to immortality. Many of the carving styles derived their inspiration from the special place in the Heavens accorded this mysterious stone: the perforated disk (or “pi”) was meant to be a device through which men spoke to the gods: the six ritual colors (green, blue0lavender, red, yellow, white and black) were cut and carved in specific ways by the Imperial Court of China to convey obeisance to Heaven. Jade was even entombed with the owner to prevent decomposition.
Almost every object or force in nature is found in the symbolism that surrounds jade. Trees, flowers, vegetables, mountains, rivers, oceans, insects, thunder, lightening, rain, the moon, sun and stars, and all types of animals (both real and imaginary) all had their place and meaning.
In ancient China, as in modern China, virtually all important occasions in life are celebrated by the giving of a piece of jade: births, marriages and business agreements are a few examples. There is a class of thin, sequin-like carvings often referred to as “baby jade” after the custom of sewing them onto baby clothes to bolster an infant’s health trough his first year. It is considered good luck to own jade and even better luck to receive it. Many Chinese even today believe that the longer one owns a piece of jade, the finer it becomes in texture and color.
What Is It?
Jade is the collective term for two substances: Nephrite (a silicate of magnesium) and Jadeite (a silicate of aluminum). Nephrite, the older of the two, is known to date as far back as Chinese recorded history, at least 5,000 years ago. It is inseparably linked with Chinese worship, court ceremonials, Chinese thought and art. Its toughness accounts for the fact that it first appeared as farming implements, knives and bowls. It was also known and used by the pre-Columbians, the Aztecs and the New Zealand Maoris. Even Aladdin, before he found his lamp, marveled at the jade “trees” in the caverns. Nephrite was mined in China until about the Han dynasty (306 BC – 220 AD) when Chinese supply dwindled, and thereafter from the region near Turkestan.
Jadeite is a comparatively modern stone, being carved to any great extent only since about 1750. It came to China from Burma, which is still the only important source for Jadeite. Gem quality jade today is actually Jadeite. It is renowned for its brilliant green color; its value today far surpasses that of nephrite, whose worth primarily derives from its antiquity. Both stones are extremely hard and durable. Jadeite accepts a very bright and lustrous polish because of its microcrystalline structure, while nephrite usually has a waxy texture.
Most modern authorities rarely bother to distinguish the two substances and they are both simply regarded as “Jade.”
The Most Difficult Stone
Because of its toughness, jade is extremely difficult to carve: as the ancients said, it was “worked with its own dust”. Legend has it that men spent a lifetime creating the perfect carving that best used the material and wasted least. The Imperial Court, which forbid the general public from owning jade, employed its own staff of artists. It is said that the Empress Dowager owned 5,000 ebony boxes filled with jade jewelry.
The very toughness of jade makes it ideally suited for fine, intricate carving. Its durability insured the fact that many generations in the same family could own and admire the exact same piece of stone. This is why jade must not be considered as an ordinary gemstone.
The 5,000 year history of jade carving reached its apotheosis in the Ch’ing dynasty (1644-1912) and in particular under the emperor Ch’ien Lung (1736-1795). During the Boxer Rebellion, with the new foreign interest in jade, carving took on a more decorative and fine characteristic, and continued the tradition of Ch’ien Lung motifs. Modern jade carving is conducted primarily in Hong Kong with Peking-trained carvers and their students. The greatest threat today to the continuation of the long tradition is not the lack of manpower, but the scarcity of suitable material.
How Much Should It Cost?
How much to pay for a piece of jade jewelry? This is a question every consumer must ponder. There are antique pieces that are literally priceless; in its finer qualities, jade can be the most expensive jewel in the world today. One Chinese emperor offered fifteen cities for a piece of jade carving he could hold in one hand.
As an investment, jade has had a long record of sound and ever-increasing value. It has survived depressions and fluctuating markets to increase in value in the past and will continue to do so in the future. One Chinese proverb says (in part): “sell all else but keep jade.” Keep in mind that while all jade appreciates, the finer pieces always appreciate the most rapidly.
Of the six basic colors of jade, green is the traditional color, and the most expensive. Rapidly gaining popularity are red and lavender, and their repective prices are also on the rise. There are at least 100 recognizable shades of green: Celadon green, apple green, leaf green, Imperial green, etc. Imperial jade is a term much misused today. It originally referred to jade in the Imperial coffers, but now denotes a stone that is a bright deep, lustrous, clear green.
What nature has given to the world is not unlimited in quantity. As world interest in jade grows, the supply of fine material diminishes and few new mines have opened in the last few decades. Much of today’s jade is re-cut from older pieces. It is inevitable that the law of supply and demand shall drive prices higher and higher.
How To Buy It
Most gemstones are evaluated and sold in terms of their carat weight. Jade is virtually unique in that it is traded by the piece. One must appraise a piece according to how “pleasing” one finds it: how fine the color, clarity, carving style, texture. Size is important, but not the only consideration. Far more important is how much one “likes” it.
Jade, as with most other gems, has its imitations. Most frequently encountered are serpentine and soapstone which are passed off as nephrite. Jadeite imitations include dyed marble, green glass (Peking Glass), grossularite garnet, plastic, chrysophrase (a natural Australian stone of much less value than genuine jade), and pale natural jadestones that have been color-enhanced by dyeing. Dyed jade often fades quickly and can sometimes be spotted by noticing stronger coloration in the natural inclusions that characterize the real thing. Always be suspicious of unusually low prices.
The importance of choosing a qualified and reputable jeweler cannot be overstated. He is in a position to obtain the best pieces from the best sources. He can assure you of the value of your purchase and has the integrity to stand behind his merchandise with knowledge and sound judgment.
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