Jade has been culturally significant to the Chinese for thousands of years. It was a symbol for the worship of heaven and earth. It was seen to embody beauty, righteousness and knowledge. Known as the ‘stone of heaven’, it was considered pure and enduring enough to inspire the highest spiritual aspirations in the wearer. When Emperor Qin Shi Huang brought together the six warring states and unified China in 221B.C., he chose the famous He Shi Bi jade for his Imperial Seal, inscribed with the words: ‘Having received the Mandate from Heaven, may (the Emperor) lead a long and prosperous life.’
For 2,000 years, the stone known as jade was actually nephrite, which was indigenous to China. Jadeite was only introduced to the empire during the Qing dynasty, when traders began exporting it from Burma in 1784. By the 19th century, Burmese jadeite had become the most highly prized gemstone of the Manchu aristocracy. It was the favourite of Empress Dowager Cixi, who loved its bright, vivid colours — it had finally reached pre-eminence as the Imperial Stone, the most precious object in China.
Today, jadeite is still highly coveted by the Chinese as well as collectors around the world. It can be found in a variety of colours, such as lavender, yellow, russet-brown and black, but it is the green stone containing chromium that is the most cherished. The value of jadeite is based upon three important criteria: colour, translucency and texture.
A pair of jadeite pendant necklaces. Each suspending a carved jadeite laughing Buddha of green colour or yellow colour on colourless ground, to the jadeite link chain. Estimate: HK$1,200,000-1,800,000 ($150,000-230,000). These works are offered in the Hong Kong Magnificent Jewels sale on 1 December at Christie’s in Hong Kong
Colour, by far, is the most important; it is assessed by observing saturation (the darkness or depth of the tone of green), brilliance (whether the jadeite is sharp and bright, or dull and dark), evenness (whether the colour is evenly spread rather than patchy or incomplete) and purity (containing no secondary tones). High-quality jadeite displays a harmonious combination of all four of these qualities.
A magnificent jadeite ring. Set with a thick high-domed oval jadeite cabochon, to the gold hoop. Estimate: HK$28,000,000-38,000,000 ($3,500,000-4,800,000). These works are offered in the Hong Kong Magnificent Jewels sale on 1 December at Christie’s in Hong Kong
Translucency is the degree to which light can penetrate the stone, and is measured by what is called ‘shui fen’ or ‘water content’: the higher the water content, the more translucent and valuable the stone.
An important jadeite and diamond necklace. The front set with thirteen oval jadeite cabochons, the reverse of each cabochon embellished with pavé-set circular-cut diamonds, joined by a flexible line of oval-shaped diamonds, to the clasp set with an oval jadeite cabochon, mounted in platinum. Estimate: HK$4,500,000-6,500,000; ($580,000-800,000). These works are offered in the Hong Kong Magnificent Jewels sale on 1 December at Christie’s in Hong Kong
Texture refers to the ground, the size and the type of the crystal structure within the stone, with the best jadeite displaying an extremely fine texture through which light can pass more evenly.
A pair of jadeite and diamond ear pendants. Each jadeite double-hoop suspended from a flexible line of three heart-shaped diamonds, mounted in gold. Estimate: HK$3,800,000-5,800,000 ($480,000-750,000). These works are offered in the Hong Kong Magnificent Jewels sale on 1 December at Christie’s in Hong Kong
Christie’s has sold a number of extraordinary jadeite pieces in recent years. Particularly worthy of mention is a pair of jadeite cabochon ear studs of a rare even brilliant emerald colour, with high translucency. They were placed at the Christie’s Magnificent Jewels auction in Spring 2008 and sold for the phenomenal price of HK$18,247,500. In 2014, this extraordinary pair were again be placed in the Hong Kong Magnificent Jewels Sale on 25 November, at an estimated price of HK$28,000,000–38,000,000. They sold for HK$51,640,000 ($6,687,592)
Main image at top: A jadeite bangle. Estimate: HK$6,000,000-8,000,000 ($750,000-1,000,000). These works are offered in the Hong Kong Magnificent Jewels sale on 1 December at Christie’s in Hong Kong
For more features, interviews and videos, visit Christie’s Daily