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THE HISTORY OF JADE BY BIGI UHL


THE HISTORY OF JADE HISTORY & MYTH

It was often necessary in the past to redefine the names of certain minerals. One only has to think of the word “carbuncle”, which was used to describe so many different red jewels. For a reason which is difficult to comprehend, the word “jade” is still used to this day to describe an abundance of minerals with barely any chemical connection whatsever. The majority of Asian tourists deem anything that is green and opaque to be jade, and accordingly purchase inferior quality, worthless imitations. Only very few jewelers know the first thing about this fascinating jewel. And if they are not well versed in the mystery and magic of jade, how are they supposed to relay this to their customers?I hope, therefore, to be able to impart some of this to you. Jade’s demure, subtle beauty went long unnoticed in the western world and is only just now being accepted as a gemstone. We do not know all that much about jade, but we are learning more and more about this fascinating gemstone due to a small, but constantly growing, circle of enthusiasts – ever-growing, as it is hard to resist jade’s alluring pull and call.

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THE HISTORY OF JADE JADE AND CHINA

It is impossible to talk about China without mentioning the symbolism of jade in its culture and history. The presence of jade can be traced back to the beginnings of their history. No other gemstone is so closely connected to a certain culture like jade is to China’s culture. As long as anyone can remember, jade was seen as “the most valuable of all treasures”, meaning “gold could be bought at a price, but jade was priceless”.

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THE HISTORY OF JADE JADE AND CHINA

Jade also had a very important place in imperial ceremonies – without it, not even the Emperor himself was allowed to approach the altar. As a whole, symbols representing good fortune were important – and still are. Motifs such as the twelve animals in the Chinese sign of the zodiac, together with dragons, insects, coins, fruit and vegetables, such as pumpkin or peapods (which were believed to promise a large number of children). Jade also played an important part in the death ceremonies during this time. Emperors and aristocrats were dressed in clothing covering every inch of the skin – and decorated solely with jade. The jade was processed into small, flat “discs” and attached to the piece of clothing with metal stitches. Both the tombs and the dead were adorned with donuts and small amulets to offer the departed soul a home. As such, over 600 pieces of jade and donuts were once found in the grave, and both in and on the body, of an Emperor’s concubine.

dity, malaria and week-long marches through the depths of the jungle to reach “the land of jade”. Only a handful made it back alive – and even less were lucky enough to return with the sacred jewel – “the stone of the heavens”. The use of snuff became fashionable during the Qing dynasty and was regarded as very chic. Today, the “snuff bottles” are among the most popular collector’s items. Objects that served as status symbols were generally popular. A good example is the thumb rings that the archers wore to prevent injuries to their thumbs. These rings represented masculinity – and were worn even by those who never used a bow and arrow. Small pieces of jade were also popular, and were either sewn onto garments (thereafter jangling at every movement) or used as buttons.

The period of the Emperor Qianlong’s regime is considered to be the apex of the handling of jade. His collection of jade is regarded as one of the most significant in the world, and the Qianlong style is just as valued today as back then. The Emperor Qianlong sent hundreds of thousands of men into the jungle in North Burma in search of more jade. Upon their arrival, the men were faced with humi-

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THE HISTORY OF JADE JADE AND CHINA

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THE HISTORY OF JADE JADE AND CHINA

During the Qianlong era, many grand pieces of jade made their

The Empress Cixi’s life was one of opulence and extravagance.

came in the form of a 21 million silver dollar fine and the surren-

way into China from the Muslim regions. The jade was mostly

She wore silk clothing decorated with thousands of pieces of

der of Hong Kong to the British.

ground until it was as thin as paper, or adorned with other gem-

jade – brilliant green bracelets and hairpins, and necklaces con-

stones and gold or silver thread. These pieces had an enormous

sisting of pieces of jade as large as walnuts.

cious rumours about the “barbaric Chinese”. These rumours,

influence on the style in those times and were very well-received by the Chinese.

In both England and France, the media was flooded with mali-

While the Empress indulged in her obsession with jade, her

together with the support from the German military, were enough

country came into peril – England had begun to smuggle opium

to motivate their march into Peking.

A few hundred years later, the widowed Empress Cixi found her-

into China. China fought hard to protect their country from the

self solely in charge of all government affairs. However, the only

influx of opium, closing all shops selling the product and bur-

thing in which she was interested was jade. For her, this green

ning what they confiscated from the British. In their first opium

stone was the “be all or end all” of existence.

war with England, China was forced to admit defeat. Retribution

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THE HISTORY OF JADE JADE AND CHINA

The Emperor grew afraid and decided to leave the city. Not long

plundered all of the remaining treasures – jade artifacts,

Their joy at the Japanese capitulation was short-lived for, during

after, an eight kilometer procession of yellow silk sedans loaded

jade jewelry and every piece of green gemstone.

this time, millions of disgruntled Chinese had subscribed to Mao

with treasure poured out of the Summer Palace in Peking, accom-

would later serve as presents to their respective govern-

panied by a series of eunuchs and concubines. The imperial party

ments and museums, as well as to their wives or girlfriends.

was only able to take a mere fraction of their treasures with them.

Eventually the soldiers decided to completely demolish the pa-

Crates upon crates containing jadeite and imperial works of art

The rest was left behind in the Summer Palace, together with a

lace. They filled it with explosives and watched as the balconies

were stripped from the wealthy Chinese and transported out of

handful of eunuchs, who were in charge of guarding the treasures.

and walls caved in on each other. The stolen goods, together

the country. As a result, over two million refugees flooded into

with the narration of these recent events, inundated Europe.

Hong Kong and transformed it into a sanctuary for jade dealers,

However, once the Allies arrived in Peking, they simply fired

These stolen treasures would form the basis of practically every

cutters, jewelers and collectors.

a few shots and the practically unmanned Summer Palace and

large-scale exhibition and became some of the most sought-after

Imperial Gardens in all their glory were at their disposal. The

relics in the world. Meanwhile, the world found itself in the grips

This is how Hong Kong came to be the largest jade emporium in

Imperial Gardens were famous in Europe, but only through exotic

of an unimaginably brutal war. The National Socialists were ma-

the world. Rows and rows of streets with thousands of jade dea-

“hear-say” stories and its extravagance far exceeded the wildest

king rapid advances, and Japan had conquered China and Bur-

lers and cutters can be found there. It is phenomenal, but unfor-

fantasies of any European.

ma. In a series of bloody battles that claimed countless lives, the

tunately in recent years it has degenerated to a hub for capturing

Chinese allies ultimately succeeding in reclaiming their country

the interests of tourists. Hence the need to be careful – not every

from the Japanese.

green stone is jade!

The soldiers ravaged every square inch of the palace and

These

Zedong’s regime.

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THE HISTORY OF JADE JADE AND BURMA

Burma also endured extreme hardship during the war, as they fought for their independence from the British occupying forces.

With success!

During the British takeover of Bur-

ma, the Burmese had not been able to mine their own natural resources. Once the Burmese military came into power, two important events took place: the Burmese were able to mine their own natural resources, and Burma became Myanmar. The highest quality of jade, as well as ruby, is found in Burma. Access to the mines is strictly controlled by the military and practically inaccessible to foreigners.

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THE HISTORY OF JADE JADE AND FASHION

It was not until the plunder of the wealth of treasures in the Summer Palace that European jewelers discovered jade, and their awe for the Orient grew. London was flooded by jade and its fascinating history became the talk of the town. “The spirit of jade is like a beautiful woman – sculpted in the form of the divine – the gemstone of all gemstones, the quintessence of creation,” Spink & Co gushed enthusiastically. Jade was declared “the epitome of mode” and took over the world of fashion. In other words, jade was suddenly more valuable than pearls or shares. Chanel, Patout and Schiaparelli were inspired by the oriental costumes in the “Russian Ballets” that took Paris by storm in 1910. The costumes were strewn with pieces of jade. This is how the “gemstone of the heavens” came to correspond with the ideals of this time, and the major jewe-

lers followed this trend accordingly. Jade became a part of the Cartier, Boucheron and Mauboussin collections. Marlene Dietrich and Joan Crawford competed for the largest cabochons. The Rotschilds, Astors and Hearsts invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy into the magical world of jade.

necklace, with its emerald-green gemstones the size of grapes, embracing her throat. After her death at the end of the 80s, her necklace was sold for a staggering sum of over $US 2 million. The necklace was auctioned once again six months later, and sold at an inconceivable $US 4.27 million.

Mention must be made of Barbara Hutton, who inherited a fortune equal to several millions at the tender age of seven. She quickly made her way to the favourite in high society. Her obsession with jade was renowned, as well as her remarkable collection of imperial antiques and jewelry. Inter alia, she possessed a handful of “melon-peel green” bracelets that had once belonged to the Empress Cixi. Her jade necklace, a gift from her father, has a legendary reputation. She was never seen without this impeccable

In November 1997, and more or less overnight, jadeite became a gemstone more valuable than diamonds. This transformation was brought about by the anonymous purchase of a jade necklace in Christie’s in Hong Kong, sold for the phenomenal price of CHF 14 million. This gemstone, with its luminous Gummibear-green glow, firm and cool to the touch, was now the most coveted stone in the world.

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THE HISTORY OF JADE JADE AND FASHION

The prices procured for jade artifacts at auctions rise constantly. The majority of enthusiasts, whether dealer or collector, are true jade connoisseurs or experts, which is how it should be. Anyone dealing with jade on such a grand scale should be a specialist on the subject. Many of those this actively involved with jade feel a fascination with it akin to an addiction, and develop an extremely unique and intensive closeness with their jade. It gives them immense pleasure to feel its weight, shape and form in the palm of their hands.

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THE HISTORY OF JADE JADE AND FASHION

Closer to home, there is also slowly talk of a new trend with jade playing the leading role. Its demure, subtle beauty went long unnoticed in the western world and is only just now being accepted as a gemstone. But the interest in jade and its fascinating history continues to grow and the jewelers in the western world have accordingly started following this 8,000 year old trend. Jade enthusiasts are labeled “jade freaks” or “jadeoholics”. More and more often, celebrities such as Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett or Catherine Zeta-Jones are seen wearing jade jewelry.

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THE HISTORY OF JADE CHARACTERISTICS

In ancient times, no precise distinction was made between genuine jade and jade-like stones. As such, many stones were – and still are – processed and traded under the umbrella term “jade”, although there is practically no chemical connection between them. This umbrella term encompasses such materials as serpentine, feldspar, carbonate and quartz. The word “jade” should only really be used to refer to stones that have a firm composition, a dense structure, a magnificent colour, a shimmery glow and, when struck with other materials, it should produce a deep, full tone. The “stone of the heavens”, a particular piece originating from the mines of Burma and belonging to the Emperor from the period 1846, eventually came to fall into the hands of the gemologist Alexandre Damour. Damour sensed immediately that this stone was completely different to the waxy specimens he had obtained from the Chinese mines. As he compared both stones under the microscope, he discovered that the glowing green, Burmese piece of jade consisted of a series of large, interlocking crystals, made up of numerous little beads. This explains the “orange peel” film typical to jade. This structure gives jade a remarkable elasticity surpassing even that of premium steel, meaning that jade can even scratch glass and steel. This makes each step of its treatment – to put it mildly – exceedingly arduous and time consuming.

In contrast, nephrite consists of cord-like, fibrous crystals that disintegrate like a sugar cube. In saying that, however, both nephrite and jade are very robust. This high density gives them both a highly specific weight, and accordingly both feel heavy in the hand. Only in China, where the adoration of jade took on almost mystical proportions, were the methods for the treatment of jade perfected – long before the birth of Christ. The craftsmen who succeeded in mastering these techniques were regarded with the esteem akin to that of aristocrats, and handsomely rewarded for their work. If we take the robust nature of jade into account, we can picture just how much effort and skill these craftsmen had to employ to produce these jade articles aided only by the primitive equipment and tools that were at their disposal during these ancient times. These craftsmen were unable to cut the hard stone, and had no other choice but to treat it with abrasives such as quartz sand – a painstaking process, often spanning the length of some decades. As jewelry, jade is more popular than nephrite, and due to its rarity, it is also more expensive. As well as this, green nephrite, in spite of its abundance of forms and shades of colour, cannot compete with the intensity of “jade green”. Both jadeite and nephrite can be clear or white, yet the smallest amounts of iron, chrome or manganese are enough to

produce a variety of shades of colour. Jadeite’s spectrum of colours is broad, ranging from green to blue, lilac, orange, black, pink, red, white, yellow and transparent. Brown, yellow and orange-red jade have been given the name “brown jade”. Shades ranging from pink to purple are known as “lavender jade”, white through to light grey as “white jade”, and dark green through to black as “black jade”. However, the most well-known jade is most certainly green jade, which can be found in China in 48 different shades of green. The shiny green jade has always been the most cherished. The Chinese gave it the name “fei cai”, which translates to “the iridescent feathers of the kingfisher”. Mere words do not suffice to describe the “fei cai”. The “fei cai”, or “imperial jade” as it is also called, has a powerful, deepgreen colour, resulting from the admixture of chrome, and is extremely translucent. Imperial jade is flawless, with no cracks or inclusions, has a homogeneous structure and its colour is completely uniform. One might compare its colour to the green of an emerald, but all emeralds are pale in comparison to the glowing, vivid, downright electrifying green of the “fei cai”.

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THE HISTORY OF JADE CHARACTERISTICS

In the marketplace, jade is divided into three categories according to its quality: the best quality is called “A-Jade” and is natural, untreated jade. Once it has been cut and polished, it is waxed in order to intensify its shine – but this process does not change its structure in any way. “B-Jade” is cooked in strong acids, to remove impurities such as iron oxide in the cracks. Thereafter, it is sealed with resin. “C-Jade” undergoes a similar treatment to that of “BJade”, but is also dyed. There are even more types of jade, like the “chloromelanite jade”, which is nowadays regarded as an independent jade sort in its own right. It can be dark green through to black, and is often dotted with little black flecks. “Mawsit-sit jade” is a jade-yielding stone from Burma. It is light green through to black in colour, more often than not scattered with little grey marks, which only add to its beauty. As “Maw-sit-sit” is mostly opaque, it is often cut until it is razor-thin and even hollowed out, to make it even more translucent.

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THE HISTORY OF JADE CHARACTERISTICS

A piece of jade that has oxidised over millions of years is difficult to distinguish from an ordinary chunk of granite. Before purchase, it is only possible to inspect both colour and quality through a “little window” ground into the surface of the stone. Because of this, the internal make-up of the stone is often a surprise for the purchaser – either green in colour, or of an inferior quality. As such, each purchase is really a matter of luck, and could be either the transaction or the fiasco of the year. Hence the need for a trained eye, accomplished only through years of experience, to purchase the right gemstone. These enormous differences in quality naturally reduce the sale price. Nevertheless, the prices procured at the present-day auctions continue to rise, with the highest prices only to be expected for gemstones with an “imperial green tinge”. Jade cabochons, pendants and bracelets are sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars – per pi-

ece, needless to say. A brand-new, imperial jade cabochon is worth more than a 3,000 year old engraved Chinese nephrite. And jade that is only slightly less intensive in colour is worth less than dazzling green jade - hence the temptation to manipulate the colour. The Chinese had long ago developed techniques, using heat or colouring chemicals, in which they could change the colour of the gemstone and accordingly broaden its colour palette. However, one can learn how to identify unusual concentrations of colour in the miniscule cracks of a gemstone, but only gemological laboratories can determine if the colour is genuine or not, and issue certificates of authenticity. If you are interested in purchasing jade, your main priority should be its authenticity – meaning that your first point of call should be to determine if the piece is real jade or not. Once this is established, you should then find out if it has been dyed, then finally how old it is. It is

very difficult to appraise jade without both adequate experience and other pieces of jade to compare it to. There is no scientific method for the dating of jade, making it something only true experts in this field are able to do. The white blemishes that are sometimes found on antique jade burial objects are called lime deposits, and result either from a natural chemical reaction with the soil, but also artificially, such as through the intense heating of the jade. The Chinese experts know to distinguish jade according to its colour, lucidity and texture. They seem to possess a supernatural ability to differentiate between jade and other stones – jade is more than just a gemstone for them.

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THE HISTORY OF JADE

JADE AND NEW ZEALAND

In New Zealand, jade was also considered to be a heavensent stone – the “stone of the gods”. For this reason, only a select few Maoris were allowed to handle and treat jade. Nephrite formed the basis of the Maori culture for a very long time. It was used to make tools and weapons, and to this day it is still referred to there as the “killer stone”. The most well-known nephrite artifacts produced there are the “hei tiki”, little figurines of the Maori gods. The “hei tiki” were constructed in the form of human figures, and were mostly worn as amulets, to protect the Maoris from all evil. It is fascinating how much serenity these figurines radiate. The nephrite from New Zealand is almost always consistent in colouring, translucent and for the most part free from inclusions. It comes in a variety of shades of green – from milky green through to very dark. The differences in its colour depend on its region of origin.

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THE HISTORY OF JADE JADE AND EUROPE

On the opposite end of the world, Europe had also started to appreciate the nature of jade. Between 5,000 and 6,000 years ago, the cavemen in the Swiss Midlands – especially the pile dwellers on the shores of the Bodensee – started utilising the jade and nephrite found in the Swiss Alps. At the beginning, jade was mainly employed because of its durability, but once they recognised its beauty and symbolic worth, they also began using it in rituals and making it into jewelry. However, the Europeans had already mined virtually all of the jade there was to mine as early as the Bronze- and Iron-Age.

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THE HISTORY OF JADE

CENTRAL- AND SOUTH AMERICA Most associate jade with the Far East, yet it was the Spanish who brought the stone back to their country after taking over Mexico, and gave it its name. It was called the “piedra de la ijada”, the “stone of the flank”, as it was thought to cure all common kidney diseases.

.

The Olmec, Aztec, Incan and the Mayan also regarded jade as sacred. Jade was used to create sculptures, masks, platters, jewelry and ceremony objects and, as with the Chinese, played a very important part in death ceremonies. Unfortunately, only very few pieces have been found in a good condition. The remarkable, renowned masks of the Mayans that have been found to date prove that they were extremely adept in processing jade. It must be said, however, that not very many of the discovered artifacts are actually jade. Anything that was green was processed, and much of it was aventurine, chrysoprase, albite, quartz, diopside and chrysolite. Accordingly, many of the artifacts found in Central- and South-America and displayed in various museums are not jadeite. It was as recently as 1955 that the jade deposits in Guatemala, from which the Mayans had extracted the jade used for making their tools and ritual objects, were discovered. South-American jade is darker than oriental jade, and is of a more inferior quality than the jade found in Burma, as it contains many inclusions and anomalies. PAGE 16


THE HISTORY OF JADE HEALING PROPERTIES BODY Jade is said to help the performance of our glands. It is both antipyretic and detoxifying, as it stimulates the kidneys, which are responsible for balancing out the salt-, water- and acid-bases in our bodies. Jade is also said to be the stone of fertility, and believed to have a haemostatic effect, which is why expecting mothers should wear a jade necklace during the birth. Together with this, jade is said to strengthen the heart and blood circulation.

MIND Jade is believed to revive dreams and past memories, and to call forth the inner knowledge hidden inside us. It also has a very equilibrating and calming effect on the mind. It is said to facilitate the creative process and strengthen selfrealisation. Jade is said to be calming when one is overwhelmed, invigorating by sluggishness, and soothing by irritability. Furthermore, it is said to stimulate the nervous system and heighten general reactions. A quarter of an hour before one falls asleep, one should place a piece of jade on the forehead. As aforementioned, jade is also thought to be the stone of fertility. The lavender-jade is supposed to promote inner peace, and increase our ability to “turn off� and relax. It is also believed to intensify feelings of fairness and compassion.

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Jade - by Bigi Uhl