During the Han dynasty, the wealthiest Chinese noblemen were sometimes buried in jade suits made from hundreds of small jade tiles linked together, sometimes with gold thread. It was a lavish display of status. But it also suggested that jade offered protection from physical decay. And for centuries since, there has been a deep connection between Chinese culture and the smooth green stone.
“Jade usually represents good health and long life for Chinese people,” according to Kent Wong, managing director of Hong Kong luxury jeweller Chow Tai Fook.
Why is it So Valuable?
- Jade is in fact a catch-all title for two chemically different substances that are physically similar.
- Jadeite (from Burma), is by most accounts the more prized of the two. But nephrite (from western China), was in use long before jadeite became popular.
- Older Chinese nephrite pieces sometimes command huge figures at auction. Bonhams auction house in Hong Kong recently sold a collection of historical jade items for $23m, dating from as early as the Neolithic period.
- Investors typically seek out something with broader appeal such as jadeite jewellery.
- Art deco pieces are particularly prized. Last October, Sotheby’s Hong Kong sold an art deco jadeite brooch by Cartier for $930,000.
What to look for
Colour- Bright emerald shades of the colour are still the most prized. But jade comes in many hues, ranging from blue to lavender to “icy” white, which has increased significantly in price in recent years.
- Buyers also look for size, shape, transparency, texture and craftsmanship.
- There’s no certification process to prove to consumers that their purchase has been sourced ethically. On the other hand, Quek points out that some of the most prized jade items are decades or even centuries old, and tracing the source would be virtually impossible.
- Although there are enthusiastic jade lovers the world over, it’s a market that depends very heavily on growth in China, which is currently seeing its slowest growth in 25 years.
- Wong thinks there’s no government policy that could derail a love affair with jade that dates back to the Neolithic period. He believes that as China becomes wealthier, and its appetite for jade grows, the price is only likely to climb.