Jade is one of the most-loved collectibles. Its origins are ancient, its properties both medicinal and decorative. Though revered around the world, jade is most commonly associated with China, where it has been known for 8,000 years. The early Chinese called it yu and saw it as a “living stone,” radiating with an inner glow.
Often ground, mixed with wine and fed to the emperors, jade was believed to increase imperial longevity. Symbolically, a court gentleman, on reaching 80, was allowed to carry a jade pigeon on a pole. Concubines received jade scepters from their emperors. Mandarin hats had carved small finials on their tops and a jade plume holder in the back. Chinese women decorated their hair with jade. Han dynasty princes and princesses were sometimes buried in suits of jade, a notable feat accomplished by stitching together bits of jade with threads of silver or gold.
Around the turn of the 20th century, we start to see large, fancy and colorful carvings made for Western consumption. Table-top and decorative items produced between 1880 and 1900 were often embellished with silver or gold, even enamel. In the second half of the 20th century, traditional styles began to give way to an elaborate new standard.
There are two kinds of jade: hard and soft. Ancient jade and hard jade are often referred to as jadeite. Though found in a variety of colors and antique gallery, the most valuable is green. The most valuable green is a near emerald green called Imperial Jade or gem-jade. Other colors, such as yellow jade, have their place in the pantheon of Chinese carvings too. Soft jade is called nephrite. Its coloration ranges from slightly off-white to yellowish white or greenish white. The latter is often referred to as celadon jade.