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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Boulder; solid jade with deeply carved landscape on both sides, pine trees and villagers; 7 ¼ inches high; sold for $2,040. Photo courtesy of Alderfer's.
“Jade is a possession to be cherished by anyone who can find it, buy it or steal it,” said Pearl S. Buck in her 1954 book “My Several Worlds.”

According to Buck men in ancient China put money in jade instead of banks. It was considered the most luxurious jewel against a woman’s flesh, worn in place of diamonds.

The Chinese emperor reportedly offered 15 cities for a jade carving he could hold in his hand. When the wealthy died, jade was often placed in their tombs. Even the poorest women in China had a bit of jade dangling from their ears or at the very least, a jade hairpin.

It wasn’t just a precious stone in the orient either. Knowing his most prized possession was jade, the Aztec emperor Montezuma supposedly smiled when he heard Cortez was only interested in gold.

The Russians carved an entire sarcophagus out of jade for Czar Alexander III.

Steeped in myth and legend, the Chinese called jade the earth’s most precious treasure. Even within the earth, the two are worlds apart it declared. Gold is of the material realm and jade is of the spirit.

That explains the “other-worldly” adjective so often used to describe jade.

“The wise have likened it to virtue,” Confucius said. “For them, its polish and brilliancy represent the whole of purity.”

More than just touchstones to ancient Asian history, people collect jade today simply because it’s beautiful. It also comes in a myriad of colors, not just green. There’s white, yellow, brown, reddish-brown, bluish, lavender and many other shades. Some pieces show more than one color too.

Jade isn’t really a single stone either. Its two semi-precious stones: nephrite and jadeite. Both nephrite and jadeite may be white or colorless. The range in color is mainly due to the presence of other elements like iron, chromium, and manganese.

Nephrite jade isn’t as flashy as jadeite. The finest jadeite is semi-transparent, the lower qualities are opaque.

As in other gems, the intensity of the color is the most important factor in judging good quality jade. Most of the pieces coming on the market today date from the Ming dynasty or later. Immortals like Buddha are favorite subject matter.

Prices vary in jade, depending on the quality of the carving and the type of jade used. Some jade is artificially aged in a chimney. The smell gives it away.

Because jade carvings have been made for centuries in China, they were also shaped into objects of everyday use like dishes, brush pots, scroll weights and belt hooks.

Jade sometimes gets mistaken for soapstone. A simple test is to apply a pin to the base. If a scratch results, the stone is not jade.

On Dec. 14, 2006, Alderfer Auction, Hatfield, Pa., featured a selection of jade in its Asian Art auction. Here are some current values for jade.


Belt Hook; finely carved in the form of a phoenix bird; fine feather details; 12 ½ inches long; $1,035.

Bowl; round form; finely carved with relief dragons and clouds; rim with geometric key border; 7 7/8 inches high; $1,920.

Brush Pot; cylinder-form; high relief design of deer and three friends, pine, cherry and bamboo; 5 ¼ inches high; $1,265.

Boulder; solid jade with deeply carved landscape on both sides, including pine trees and villagers; 7 ¼ inches high; $2,040.

Wood Table Screen; jade panel both sides depicting dragons, shrines, fish, birds, lotus blossoms and clouds; 6 ¼ inches high; $2,700.

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