Ethnic Jewels

An appreciation of ethnic jewellery and adornment

A Visit to the Jade Market in Hong Kong

When visiting Hong Kong, a visit to the Jade Market on Kansu Street (near Tin Hau Temple) is highly recommended.  You will see a bit of local color and if you are not bothered by aggressive sales tactics, it is a fun outing. Yes, there are a lot of tourists, but local Hong Kong residents also buy here (although I would wager that they get much better prices than the tourists!)

Jade is an important material in Chinese culture imbued with symbolism.  For more on this topic, here is a link to an article published by Christie's auction house. (http://www.christies.com/jade/jade/the-stone-of-heaven/)  It had a complex prescribed hierarchy of use.  Today, many Chinese still seek to own at least one piece of jade to bring luck.  The Jade Market in Hong Kong caters to this clientele.

A word of caution:  you will not find anything old at the Jade Market, and generally speaking the material sold here is not high end.  If you want old, visit the antique galleries on Hollywood Road, but be prepared to pay handsomely!  If you want newer top quality there are plenty of high end jewelry stores in Hong Kong, but make sure you ask for a certification if you are planning to buy anything fancy!

You will find a variety of materials of varying quality at the Hong Kong Jade Market.  They sell everything from imitation to good quality jade.  I found that the sellers I spoke with were honest about which pieces were imitation, and they were all too happy to show me higher quality pieces (that commanded a higher price, of course.) I personally think that the quality of the carving was not great.  My impression is that most of the pieces are manufactured by the sellers with small grinding tools.  And at one stall I saw bits of left over material from the manufacturing process.

I purposely limited the amount of money I spent at the Jade Market because I am wary of buying jade.  It is a complex material that is difficult to understand without research and experience.  Basically, the term "jade" comprises two different minerals.  These are jadeite and nephrite.  These two minerals are very similar in that they are both silicates with similar visual and physical qualities.  According to Rapp, "When worked and polished, jadeite and nephrite can usually be distinguished by their appearance.  The luster of nephrite is oily rather than vitreous while that of jadeite is opposite.  In addition, the apple-green or emerald green varieties are jadeite." (Archaeominerology, Springer 2002, pp.101-103)

Many less expensive materials are used as jade substitutes.  These include glass and other mineralogical compounds.  Also, even real jade of lesser quality can be dyed to resemble a more expensive stone.  It is not uncommon for small imperfections in the stone to be filled with wax.  When the stone is polished it is more difficult to see these imperfections.

Generally speaking, better jadeite is more translucent.  You should be able to see some light pass through the stone.  The material being sold at the Jade Market included both materials mined in China and Myanmar (Burma).  The Myanmar jade is currently preferred by the Chinese for its translucence and pretty shade of green.  I did buy a piece of this, but upon my return and further research, I have discovered some ethical problems with Burmese jade.  Apparently the mining of this jade is controlled by corruption and involves ecological destruction and labor disputes.  It is rather disheartening to find ethical questions tied up with almost everything one purchases these days on the global market, but we can only try to be aware of these things before we buy.  Sadly, I was unaware at the time of my trip.  Here is a link to what I have learned.

http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asiapacific/5-dead-after-myanma...

There are other materials available for sale, including pearls.  I cannot vouch for the quality of these materials, but here is a photo of a display:

Another thing available at the Jade Market is a service to mount the piece of jade (or other material) for hanging as a pendant.  18kt gold (in white or yellow) and sterling silver choices are available.  There is one gentleman who will do it for you while you wait.  The Jade Market is open from 10AM until 4PM.

FURTHER READING

If you are interested in more about the history of jade use, or the different Chinese names used for different colors here is useful link:  http://www.lotusgemology.com/index.php/library/articles/270-lotusge...

This link is useful if you want to know the different misnomers for jade, and more about which geologic materials are used as jade substitutes: http://geology.com/gemstones/jade/

And of course, there is information on jade published on line by the Gem Institute of America, and the International Gem Society:https:

https://www.gemsociety.org/article/jadeite-jewelry-and-gemstone-inf...

https://www.gia.edu/gia-news-research/nephrite-jade-road-evolution-...

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Comment by Leonor Arnó on October 27, 2017 at 4:22

Thanks Edith, I hope I'll have some time this weekend to read the links you posted. I would love to be there and see this great market! Whatever the material these items are made I just love them!!

Comment by Edith D on October 26, 2017 at 23:14
Thanks for the info, especially regarding the certification. I do not think you would get any certificates at the jade market in any case since it is very informal, and as I said, not the high end of the market. But there were plenty of better jewelry stores around HK with what appeared to be “imperial” green jade in their windows. If one were to buy something like that, you would want to make sure that it were not only genuine, but also that it had not been dyed to achieve its green color! A tough thing to be certain of, especially if as you say, the certificates are not reliable!

Regarding the many materials called “jade” by the Chinese, I believe one would find additional information regarding this on the links above labeled “Further Reading.” The Chinese also have many different names for jade in the Chinese language to describe color and quality of the stone!
Comment by Leonor Arnó on October 26, 2017 at 17:07

Very interesting information, thank you. I would like to add something else, because I did some research myself a couple of months ago. It seems that Chinese call jade to a wide variety of hardstones which are not really jadeite or nephrite. When this items come to the occidental market is when it gets very confusing, because we just label as jade jadeite and nephrite.

Another thing I discovered is that most of the Chinese certificates arefaked and that some of the supposed gemmological laboratories doesn't really exist.. of course there must be still real jade items for sale and real certificates!!

Comment by Edith D on October 26, 2017 at 15:53
Glad you found it of interest Thelma!
Comment by Thelma on October 26, 2017 at 15:23

Thanks very much for this interesting piece on Jade, Edith. One of the bits of information that interested me was that jade was a term used for two different types of minerals: nephrite and jadeite. So if someone sells a jade pendant... the actual stone may be nephrite or it may be jadeite. I know that very early on the Turkmens were fond of using nephrite... I must do some more research on where this came from... and whether examples of its use by the Turkmens still exist. 

Comment by Edith D on October 24, 2017 at 4:23

Here are some pieces of Burmese jadeite

Contrasted with a Chinese variety of lesser quality...

Notes

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