Jade’s intricate beauty begins to gain admirers


Crystal Ung learned from her childhood the “magical and protective powers” ​​of jade. His grandfather had emigrated alone from southern China to Cambodia during the Chinese Communist Revolution with a jade ring given by his father, and his aunt had told him the story of his trip.

“It was believed to really offer him protection and help him thrive when he moved,” Ung said.

So when she saw a vintage jade bracelet while shopping while on vacation in Bermuda, it brought back memories of her family. But, upon returning to New York, Ung struggled to find pieces online, especially “more minimalist” designs. His response was to create jewelry brand Ren last year, in order to preserve East Asian traditions.

This decision seems timely. Jade has long been treasured in Chinese culture for its beauty, spiritual and mystical properties, and as a talisman and status symbol. However, a hundred years after French jewelers began using jade in art deco pieces, auction houses and brands are reporting a growing appreciation for the gemstone outside of Asia.

After Crystal Ung launched Ren, she saw that the plays attracted a larger audience than Asian Americans.

There are two types of jade: nephrite and the harder, translucent jadeite, which is preferred for jewelry. The finest jadeite comes from Myanmar, with imperial green being the most sought after color.

Wenhao Yu, vice president for jewelry in Asia at Sotheby’s, says the lack of a standard method for valuing jadeite – which has a more complex composition than stones such as diamonds or emeralds – has limited its popularity at the International scale.

But the proportion of Sotheby’s clients participating in jadeite jewelry sales who live outside Asia is now on the rise. Since 2019, an average of 20% of bidders and buyers are based outside the continent, compared to 7% of non-Asian buyers between 2010 and 2018.

To encourage this trend, the auction house has worked with Swiss gem laboratories Gübelin and SSEF to produce a standard certification for the imperial green-colored jadeite it sells – in traditional cabochon, pearl and pearl forms. bracelets.

Sotheby’s aim is to demonstrate that it is of superior quality, comparable to a pigeon’s blood ruby ​​or a royal blue sapphire. It also publishes price per carat information after the auction.

The idea is to “create a cohesive system” that is easier to understand for an international audience, explains Yu. He also attributes the growth in popularity of jadeite to international brands that present it in fine jewelry, using different parameters and techniques.

The Swiss jewelry house Boghossian uses nephrite and jadeite as support stones, and creates five to 10 pieces per year with jadeite as the center stone.

Collectors are drawn to its rarity and the fact that it has “a new field in which to enter,” said managing partner Roberto Boghossian.

Boghossian Necklace

Boghossian Necklace

The jeweler is another who reports increased interest in jade from non-Asian customers over the past three years.

“We probably started working with him to tap into the Asian market, and then organically he evolved,” says Boghossian. “It is now part of our collection on a limited number of pieces, which we show to all of our customers. “

In the meantime, Phillips is targeting a wider audience for jadeite by showcasing contemporary designs. The auction house sold earrings with 54 jadeite shuttle-shaped cabochons, and paraiba tourmalines and diamonds, from Hong Kong-based Karen Suen for HK $ 302,400 ($ 38,800) in June.

Karen Suen earrings

Karen Suen earrings

Cristel Tan, Phillips’ international jewelry specialist for Southeast Asia, says contemporary Asian designers – like Chinese artist Wallace Chan – have “pushed the boundaries” of jadeite.

“They came out with contemporary uses, which appeal more to Western aesthetics, while still retaining a traditional sense of the material itself,” notes Tan.

Wallace Chan Brooch

Wallace Chan Brooch Still Life

Chan, a former jade sculptor whose pieces are on display all over the world, says he tries to be “free” with the materials rather than relying on traditional approaches: he could use an emerald cut for it. jade and transform a milky diamond into a jade cabochon. . Its patented polishing technique – used for the sculptural Stilled Life brooch, which features imperial green jadeite like the body of a cicada – makes the jade brighter by letting in more light.

Chan says jade is a “teacher” because of its “very distinctive” character and the difference between the pieces in terms of color, composition, and translucency.

He says the goal is to make jade, historically a symbol of the virtues of a gentleman, “attractive but humble”.

“It’s a subtle beauty that we’re looking for,” he explains, suggesting that this subtlety means that it takes time to appreciate the beauty of jade, unlike the immediate appeal of a diamond.

But jade attracts fans. Earlier this year, Rihanna posted on Instagram photos of herself decked out in green and lavender jade and British actress Gemma Chan wore a jadeite Ren necklace in the September British Vogue.

Although Ung was targeting Asian Americans when she launched Ren, the plays appeal to a wider audience.

She believes the growing popularity of jade rollers and Gua Sha facial massage tools is playing a role. “The thought that jade is synonymous with well-being has sparked greater interest in stone as a gem, but I think it [will] take a little more education to continue to generate that interest, ”she said.

Wallace Chan believes that it will be difficult to get a broader appreciation of jade because, without the technology and standardized grading methods of other stones, much of it is “still based on eyes, experience, [and] connoisseurs ”.

“In Chinese, we have a saying that if there are 1,000 kinds of stones, there are 10,000 kinds of jade,” he said. “But it’s not enough.”

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