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Thursday
Apr142005

China Today - April, 2005

Kirk Makepeace, Jade West

I have been traveling to China since 1980 and no matter how many times I visit I am always in awe at the rapid rate of change this country is experiencing, and no more so since my last visit just 24 months ago. The super-freeways, airports, modern office towers and housing developments that have been built in just two years are simply amazing! And the quality of construction and architecture would be impressive additions to any western city. And not just the physical changes. What was once a country of smiling, blue suited, humble people is now a bustling nation of strutting confident, stylish, and relatively easy- spending hordes of consumers and entrepreneurs.

My visit to Beijing was to finalize a marketing plan involving nephrite pendants for the Beijing 2008 Olympics. In this situation, China remains traditionally slow, and as the time frame for these Olympic winds down, it has yet to be determined whether nephrite will be offered as an official Olympic souvenir. If and when things change I will provide a new update for Friends of Jade.

While in Beijing I was taken to see a proud jadeite sculpture that is soon to be offered to collectors and museums around the world. Carved from a 1300 kg. jadeite boulder discovered in 2001, this traditional multi-Buddha-on-a-mountain scene was very well carved, polished, and even exhibited some bright flashes of emerald and apple green over a generally white boulder of very translucent material. They are expecting to receive bids over $1,000,000 for the piece when offered for sale later this year.




CAPTION: 1300 kg jadeite scultpure to be auctioned in Beijing

The traditional Friendship stores in Beijing still offer a wide range of jadeite jewelry and small carvings.The largest, just west of Tiananmen Square, has an entire floor dedicated to jade. Sadly, most of the stone was treated and priced rather high. As usual, the relatively few pieces of nephrite on display were advertised as "Jasper," a very frutstrating practice where the English translation for nephrite is in error. I spent an hour on the floor and was the only customer in sight. This is one of the holdout businesses that still remain from the old highly regulated Chinese economy. I would predict that its days are numbered and soon will be replaced by a modern western styled department store.

Down the road adjoining the Starbucks cafe that seem to be on every city block was a newer department store proudly displaying higher quality jadeite jewelry items, impressively displayed, and just as impressively sold by smartly dressed and informative salespeople. The store was packed and sales were brisk. No nephrite was in sight.

I spent another week at a joint venture factory in Southern China where most of our products are made to sell on our website and at the Tucson and Munich Gem Shows. It is a clean modern factory that produces items for Export Only. Totally dedicated to nephrite production, the factory is not allowed to sell its products in China.


HAND CARVING A NEPHRITE BUDDHA CARVING FOR EXPORT TO THE U.S.



ROWS OF DIAMOND SAWS CUTTING NEPHRITE JADE

This Taiwan joint-venture factory is seeing a major shift from the traditional animal carvings to jewelry made from our popular Polar Jade. It has a design team working on new consumer products for Western markets. If you need bathroom accessories, door knobs, lamps, dinner plates, or whatever, drop me an email.

A highlight of my trip was a visit to Sihui, a small city near the massive metropolis of Guangzhou (formally Canton), 4 hours from Hong Kong. Sihui is one of four major jade markets in this single Chinese province. The locals are proud to announce that the Chinese Central Government has bestowed the title, "CHINA'S HOMETOWN FOR JADE PROCESSING" to the town. This allowed a mass infusion of state capital to modernize and improve the infrastructure. At night the tree-lined main streets are brightly illuminated in Emerald Green and Lavender lights to emphasize those sought after jadeite colours. Both of these colors were nearly impossible to see in the actual stone being carved.


CONCOURSE OF JADEITE SHOPS WITH FACTORIES ABOVE, IN SIHUI, CHINA. ROADS CLOSED TO VEHICLE TRAFFIC AND SECURITY POSITIONED AT ALL ENTRANCES


SHOPS SELLING FINISHED JADEITE PRODUCTS AND ROUGH BOULDERS OF JADEITE


More than 60,000 jadeite carvers work in this town. There are at least 300 factories and 2500 family self-employed units dedicated to jadeite production. Unlike the larger state-owned factories in Henan province in Central China, the bulk of the jade carved here is intended for smaller sculptures and jewelry pieces. All the rough jade boulders I saw in the stores and factories there were destined to become 10-30 inch carvings. The remaining "cut-ends" along with small chips and pieces were then mass produced into the traditional Buddha pendants, small jewelry items, and beads that are sold locally and distributed through wholesalers to the rest of China and Hong Kong.

The main jade commercial area is home to a few hundred small retail stores. Each has a full range of jadeite products and small boulders for resale. Above each store is a 2-3 story "factory" where the hum of electric grinders sifts down to street level.

Two things surprised me. First, each store-front had at least one ton of jadeite visible for sale either in finished products or rough jadeite. Second, the majority of items that were sold were fully and elaborately carved but NOT polished. Polishing is extra. Each store owner has a few water spritzers to wet down the carvings to show the end result. The reason explained to me was to prove to the prospective purchaser the stone was untreated. From a distance many of the larger carvings looked like they were made of marble, until the water spray brought the unique jadeite look to life. Once purchased, the buyer could arrange to have the sculpture or jewelry polished. Generally a 3-day turnaround was promised. If you wanted to arrange a few enhancements to make your jadeite look a little more jade-like, that service was also available. Manufactures of vibrating tumbler polishers were prolific as much of the small carvings and jewelry are polished using this method.


JADEITE MERCHANT WITH WATER BOTTLE IN HAND OFFERING HIS SCULPTURE FOR SALE



NOW WET WITH WATER THE JADEITE COLORS APPEAR

I visited Liao Jin Wen, one of the most promising master carvers in Suhui, where he proudly displayed his studio gallery of fine pieces. His proudest and perhaps most unusual piece was a carved chicken presented in all its fine detail as it would appear at a traditional Chinese Banquet. It was not overly appealing to this western eye but it was a dramatic and welcome change from traditional jadeite carvings. This piece won first place recently in the annual Beijing Jadeite carving competition. The piece is no longer for sale as the artist has put it his private collection. He showed me photographs of his annual visit to Myanmar to purchase his jade. He buys about 2 tons a year, and pays about $35/lb for his finer pieces. He did not know how much was imported from Burma to this one small carving centre in China but claimed it easily exceeded 1000 tons per year. That figure is believable when you walk the streets and see that nearly that much on display in a single day. And it again raises the question, which is the rarer jade today, nephrite or jadeite?


MASTER CARVER, WEN BAO ZHAI PROUDLY DISPLAYING HIS JADEITE SCULPTURES


MASTER CARVER, WEN BAO ZHAI WITH HIS AWARD WINNING CHICKEN



MASTER CARVER, WEN BAO ZHIA INSPECTING ROUGH JADEITE BOULDERS



ROUGH JADE BOULDER BOUGHT IN BURMA FOR $35/LB, NOW FOR SALE AT $70/LB

The early pre-dawn market opens at 3:00a.m. and takes place a few blocks away from the main jadeite commercial zone. More than 600 dealers spread their jade wares on the ground or on small tables illuminated by their individual flashlights. If anyone has ever been to the famous Hong Kong morning market, imagine it on steroids. This is ten times bigger, no English is spoken, and it is totally dedicated to the wholesale trade. There is not a tourist in sight and it is strictly all-business. Goods purchased in the morning market will often be re-sold later the same day in the retail markets of Guangzhou, an hour away. Trays of carved jewelry piece were to be sold in bulk, easily up to 500 pieces of single items per tray. To ask for a price for one or two items identified you as not being a wholesale trader, and probably not welcome in the market.

Prices seemed reasonable and certainly well below those in Hong Kong. Untreated jadeite Buddha pendants would sell for between $5-20. Treated ones for about $1-2. Exceptional natural colored ones, with visible greens, for about $50 per piece.




EARLY MORNING JADEITE MARKET UNDER THE LIGHT OF HUNDREDS OF FLASHLIGHTS



NATURAL COLOR "POLISHED" BUDDHA PENDANTS, ASKING PRICE $ 200.00 FOR 5 PIECES



ROWS OF LARGE UNPOLISHED BUDDHA CARVINGS FOR SALE IN THE MORNING MARKET



The asking price for large well carved sculptures from 12 to 16 inches ranged from $150-$500. None was polished. That was extra!

I often comment that the nephrite industry is characterized by carved Grizzly Bears, often with a jade fish glued in their mouth. Nephrite's "Bear with Fish" is a jadeite Buddha. There were tens of thousands of them in all shapes and sizes available this trip.

In summary, the two jades still remain powerful stones in the Chinese economy, but nephrite plays a minor role compared to the multi-million dollar industry surrounding carving and selling jadeite. The quantity of jadeite imported from Burma appears to be easily in excess of 1000 tons per year, far exceeding the amount of nephrite mined annually in Canada, Russia, and New Zealand combined. And this makes nephrite's future in China difficult to predict. With the rush to copy almost all western measurements of wealth and culture, there appears to be less jade found in the jewelry worn by those under 40 years. Gold, diamonds, and fashion jewelry appear to be the adornments of choice.

As mentioned earlier, this is a country of remarkable change. Where now is the Stone of Heaven, and where will it be in the future?

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Reader Comments (4)

hi I have been trying to get inn touch whit you , I make jade carvings and I ave many tecnical problems and I apreciet your help thancks ( sorry for my enghish is terrebol)bye
July 27, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterdante lopez
I am interested in finding a whesaler in china fo the nehrite carvings, specifically, bears in different sizes and poses and fish. If you know of anyone please pass along my email.

Thanks
March 1, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterteena wright
I have many great JADEITE & NEPHRITE JADE carving that I would like to sale. could you tell me were I could sale them.

Thank You,
Frank,
I like to know a good place to sell, JADEITE & NEPHRITE JADE

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