Jadeite and nephrite (although different, the two are called jade) have been highly regarded for thousands of years, especially by the Chinese. But for so many years, it was especially the Western world that picked up this fascination with collecting antique jade sculptures. Here in Europe and the United States a lot of publications have been published and many dedicated collectors and experts of ancient jade have created and influenced the market values.
But recently the rich Chinese have become very interested in jade again because they invest so much that the prices have skyrocketed! But as a collector, it’s obvious that non-Chinese collectors have very different views on what they value most. Sculptures that cleverly use the natural flaws of the stone, or use inclusions so brightly colored, are not very popular with these Chinese buyers, not as much as the pure white jade sculptures!
So far, these Chinese mainly view jade as an alternative investment product. Like most usual forms of investing, currencies and real estate have all proven to be so precarious, these successful millionaires may be very smart!
I don’t know if they were influenced by the huge increase in commodity prices. The most beautiful pieces of Hetian nephritis were only found around 4,500 meters above sea level in the north of Kunlun Mountain, Xinjiang, although it is a very difficult climb. , low in oxygen and extremely cold, reports now indicate that there is not much more to find. There are other sources of Jade; the second best quality comes mainly from Burma. But thinking of jade as an investment over the past ten years, as gold has gone up about 3 times, the price of the best Hetian jade raw material has gone up 100 times!
The pebbles,(sometimes called Hetian pebble or seed jade) are only found in the river bed. These are highly praised because they come from the jade seams of Kunlun mountain, which were exploded by the glacier, then after years of natural weathering in the fast-flowing river, these jade rocks are gradually crushed into pebbles, all of them weaknesses of these stones are broken in this process, so the remaining Hetian pebbles are only of the best quality.
For antique collectors there are many aspects to take into account aside from the quality of the carving and the period of the piece, when purchasing jade there is another consideration that can add value, that of the color of the stone. Many people don’t realize how many colors of jade there are. Antique jade carvings can be found in white, sheep fat, various shades of green, yellow and lilac, black, even red, and these can be a factor in the price. Also if there is a seal (so many wonderful pieces have no signature) but if the seal is genuine (many were registered later) then that also adds to the value. So, for a very long time, these were the main criteria that influenced the price.
Gradually, quality antique jade became more and more valuable. But this caused the Chinese to profit by making a lot of new copies of earlier jade pieces and they carved others from less precious stones, but also called them jade! So many people have flooded the market. They also discovered ways to add color to jade. However, very few experienced collectors have found it difficult to recognize them, as nothing more than cheap fakes or modern copies that they are. To be sure that the color was not added, you need a high magnification, so it’s not that easy to check. I believe over time the dyed stones return to their original color, so paying extra for the bright lavender, yellow or green jade could be very painful!
Subsequently, some of these modern fakes are so much better (the sculpture has improved) and there are now a number of more difficult to identify counterfeits. So it has become another important factor that affects the value and that is the question of “Provenance”. Every jade is now viewed with suspicion, unless it can be established as having been part of a well-known collection, or an auction that dates back to the days when these forgeries were easy to spot, or better still, at an even older period.
But now the values are drastically shifting in a way that’s hard for collectors like me to understand! These Chinese investors buy back their heritage, but more as an investment than as collectors. They have decided that 18th century pieces of a pure color, without flaws and certainly not mottled are their preference, they particularly appreciate the pure brilliant white jade, or pure green, as well as the brilliant emerald green which is often used in jewelry. Also any of those jade carvings that have a good seal mark (even if this seal is not genuine) now commands a much higher value.
Speaking of a much higher value, this is where we former collectors are now really baffled. Because if we consider a well carved and good quality 18th century pure white jade sculpture, which would normally have sold for our highest expected value, in any auction these days, this same piece will likely sell for between 4 and 8 times that figure, to a Chinese investor! Is it possible that over time these buyers also appreciate the wonderful craftsmanship that most of us collectors appreciate and love?