Suzhou, also called the Venice of the East because of its picturesque canals or City of the Gardens, is town with about 700.000 inhabitants one hour driving west of Shanghai.
Since ancient times, Suzhou is also one of the centers of fine jade carving and, during a recent stay in China, I managed a short visit there.
Jade carving is carried out as a cottage industry in the south-eastern part of the old town (Suzhou 1) along the numerous small roads off the Xiang Wang Lu.
A carver's workplace
A typical jade carving shop consists typically in a 4x4m room in which three to four carvers work and many times also cook, eat and sleep. When you stroll along the Xian Wang back alleys you can see numerous Chinese signs of jade painted hastily on the walls indicating that behind a door or courtyard such jade carving is carried out. You are welcome to wander in, observe their work and enquire about carvings available and their always too high prices.
Please inspect my ware!
These carvings are mostly of small size consisting in pendants and small animals made from good quality Xinjiang white jade. The carving is done on standardized horizontal spindle workstation of Chinese manufacture (about 500 US$ per unit) by the local artist.
Typical Suzhou small white jade carvings
In a division of labor, the final and less creative step, the polishing of the carving, is done by specialized workshops which I have not been able to locate/see. The working conditions are not the best especially what concerns the cramped quarters and the poor lighting which strains the eyes of the artist. Although very fine details are carved, no magnifying glasses or loupes are used.
Belt buckle in watery green Geermu white jade with Taotie mask design
Unfinished pendant in cloudy green Xinjiang Jade
Pendants in white and dark green-to-black Khotan jade
A more up-scale jade shop in the Xiang Wang Lu quarter
Available jade mountain scenes in a pale green-white Khotan jade
Lone pine and sage mountain scene in pale green-to-white Khotan jade
Next to these small jade carving shops also larger facilities are located in and around Suzhou but they turn out more the standard "tourist" ware and less this "artisan jade" with all its individualities and styles.
More up-scale jade selling is ocurring near the center of old Suzhou in a building on the Quan Qian street just off the main pedestrian street.
Da Chen Fong gate at the entrance of the Quan Qian road (at Suzhou 2 on Google Earth picture)
Entrance to the jade shops building
No need to hurry - the prices are going only one direction - up!
Some very nice carvings are available as also a good-to-excellent but terribly expensive selection of Khotan Yurungkash River white jade pebbles and boulders.
Discussing how to get the most out of a Khotan white jade river pebble
A veritable black Karakash River jade pendant (left) and a deep green one with gold line decoration
A small cup carved from a white jade pebble with a thick red skin
So if you are close by and have a ton of money, visit Suzhou and its jade carvers and don't forget to report it on www.friendsofjade.org!