Jade Gemstone

Jade Gemstone

Jade is more than just a green stone. The very word conjures up exotic thoughts and, to the Chinese in particular, it was - and is - as treasured as gold.                    

Thousands of years before the birth of Christ, jade was used in China for tools and weapons due to the fact that it was so hard. However, it was too beautiful a stone for such a restricted purpose. During the Chou dynasty (1122 BC to 249 BC), the Emperor ordered pieces of jade to be carved for use at religious rites.

Jade Gemstone

 A disc with a central hole - called a pi (pronounced bee) - represented heaven; at the other extreme, earth - which even then was thought to have four corners - was symbolised by a squared circular tube with a central hole. Called a tsung, it looked a bit like a set of decorative threaded on a circular tube.

You'd have to be fabulously lucky - and very rich - to pick up a 3,ooo-year-old ritual pi or tsung at your average boot sale or even a specialist auction. Such pieces were usually large and preserved in museums: a ritual pi might be 10 or more inches in diameter.

Jade Gemstone
However, the Chinese continued making smaller pi and tsung pieces for many more years. Such ritual- type items of jade were often buried with the dead (for when they awoke) and have since been 'recovered'.  

 Collectively, these pieces are usually referred to as 'archaic' or 'tomb' jade and archaic versions (normally with a diameter of around two inches) are easier to come by. A small pi will set you back at least $200 and a tsung   depending on its size and design - even more.

The central hole in a pi should be about one-fifth of the overall diameter: a larger hole means that the disc is not a pi. Smaller pi - from around the time of Christ - are often decorated with raised dots on one face and a pattern of'  C's (representing dragons) on the other.

Jade Gemstone
Jade is not in fact a single substance nor is its appearance at all uniform. Two different stones are referred to as jade: jadeite and nephrite. Both are extremely hard but vary widely in color - from almost white through shades of green to near black. Chinese jade is mostly nephrite and commonly a pale leafy green. However, the most'prized Chinese jade is creamy white in colour and known as mutton-fat jade. Some very fine nephrite is mottled with brown and an almost black green. Clear, darker, near bottle green,  

Because of its hardness, jade was always extremely difficult to carve. Try to cut a piece of jade and you're more likely to blunt the knife than mark the stone. (With the owner's permission, scratch firmly with a knife on an unseen part of the jade piece. If the scratch-mark is white, the stone is not jade. If the mark it's black, this will be the wearing away of the knifeblade - and the stone is definitely jade.)

Jade Gemstone
In bygone years, carving jade meant a painstakingly slow process whereby the stone was worn down using powdered quart and a greasy lubricant. Most of the large and intricate pieces found in museums were the product of many years work by the artist. The carving process has speeded up over time but a large amount of TLC still went into the soft-feeling fondling pieces.

 Many small jade pieces were made just for show (as were many much larger, more intricately carved pieces). The exotic character of the stone itself sometimes warranted its display. This is why you sometimes find a small piece of jade which seemingly has no purpose like a plaque or shelf bit. Then, of course, there are items intended for more personal display such as pendants. In each case, the price will vary with the ill quality and intricacy of the carving and the look of the stone itself.

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