Empress Dowager Cixi of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) adored jade ornaments and, in addition to wearing extravagant pearls and jewels on formal occasions, she decorated herself with jade bracelets, hair ornaments and fingernail protectors.
Jadeite ornaments are quite apparent in the portrait of the powerful and ruthless Cixi (r 1850-1861) by American painter Katharine Clark,
According to legend, a diplomatic envoy presented tribute including a large, flawless diamond, however, Cixi did not spare a glance for the dazzler and preferred instead the man’s jadeite beads, for which she paid him handsomely.
Cixi ate with jadeite chopsticks and drank from jadeite cups. Every day she wore jadeite hair clasps and rings. Her favorite “toy” was said to be a jadeite cabbage.
Jadeite buried deep in mountains, gorges and river beds was the ultimate luxury and the most precious gemstone in Chinese culture.
It is often found in the mountains stretching from Yunnan Province to Myanmar.
Today, a good-quality jadeite artifact of piece of jewelry is difficult to find and very costly.
During Christie’s spring auction in Hong Kong this year, the price of jadeite jewelry ranged from US$2.3 million to US$18.8 million.
A small jadeite ring decorated with diamonds is expected to sell for US$18,000 to US$22,000 at Sotheby’s auction in New York in September.
“Jadeite is a kind of necessity for the rich in China,” says Zhu Zujie, general manager of Chia Ta Jewelry Co Ltd. Top-quality jadeite jewelry and art pieces cost at least one million yuan (US$162,240), he says.
Translucency is the most important standard for a jadeite piece, followed by color and texture. Quality jadeite jewelry is evenly saturated with homogeneous color. It is difficult to separate the best quality stone from a large quantity of mineral. It must be cut carefully and polished with diamond powder.
A high-quality jadeite bracelet carved from a single piece of mineral costs much more than other jadeite jewelry of the same quality, says Zhu. It is very rare to find one of uniform color.
High-quality vivid green jadeite jewelry can cost millions of yuan. Green symbolizes peace and vitality. Jade is considered lucky; wearers are said to be protected from misfortune.
More young people and newly wealthy people are buying it.
Zhu says most of his customers are around 40 years old, and few customers older than 50 buy high-end jadeite.
He recalls once an 18-year-old woman bought more than 10 million yuan’s worth of jewelry in less than five minutes. “She put the jewelry on and was surprised by how enchanting and exquisite the stone was, so she bought it.”
“The jadeite market is very mature now there’s a scientific appraisal system that helps to identify if it’s genuine. Unless you buy it from the black market, the possibility to be fraud is relatively low,” Zhu says.