Current Climate & Outlook on Collecting Chinese Jade


“…collect what the Chinese love historically and perhaps one day in future they will buy it back from you at a much higher price…” – this probably still worked during the post-Asian Crisis and Dot-com Bubble Burst. Back then, older and genuine pieces “Gao Gu Yu” went for fire sale prices, typically Neolithic to Han period – who wants something covered with soil, cinnabar and slight corrosion?

Nowadays, there’s no such thing unless one has deep pockets (asking for at least RMB100,000 for a decent white nephrite animal piece) to wrestle precious white jades from the Chinese dealers.

Auction pieces are typically Ming or Qing jade carved from white nephrite mined in Hetian (or Khotan) near the Kunlun mountains and rivers in Xinjiang, China. Due to mining quotas imposed by the Chinese government (procuring most of the good stuff for themselves) and harsh weather conditions, little or none left even for local dealers. Most of good stuff probably landed in the hands of elite dealers who yumcha with the Chinese government every other day. Spoke to a Chinese dealer 3 weeks ago, who was a soldier back in Xinjiang, and basically concluded that there’s nothing left – well, he runs an Antique shop at Bras Basah Complex in Singapore. You know what I mean.

Next, we have the modern fakes everywhere and it is becoming a chronic problem. The Chinese laws & regulations are vague and extremely limited in terms of protecting collectors and encouraging honest trading. NEVER EVER think that all auction houses in China are reliable, do your homework. Recall the 220 million yuan or US$34.9 million “Han Dynasty Dressing Table and Stool” sold by Beijing Zhongjia International Auctions? Get the whole story here http://www.ecns.cn/2012/03-05/9505.shtml – money laundering or fraud?

What about collecting Chinese Jades between price range of $1000-$100,000? The number of fakes increase exponentially. Let’s look at Singapore first. I was told that most pieces in Fulushou, Bras Basah, China Square Weekend Market and Chinatown are modern reproductions or fakes, but I had to confirm this piece of information through hours of exploration on foot. Although shops selling fake pieces may carry genuine pieces, but they are not going to bring it out unless they sense that you know your stuff. However, I must give credit to a handful of reputable dealers in Chinatown and along Tanglin road.

China’s counterfeit industry has developed into a complete production line engaging tens of millions of people to exploit the country’s $13 billion art trade – map of fakes http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/epaper/2012-04/03/content_14974502.htm. A huge factor fueling this counterfeit industry is related to publications of excavated and, to put it nicely, “taken amid chaos or to preserve historical relics” pieces from local and foreign museums and personal collections – which I will be elaborating further in a future article on analyzing Chinese Jade.

Enough about the supply side. As for demand, I will not say much given the numerous articles online that explains the Chinese love for Hetian jade. For me, the great feeling of fondling a Hetian nephrite and visual study of the intricate carvings led to the appreciation of different Chinese dynasties and artistry of ancient carvers. Furthermore, have a look at catalogues and auction results by Christie’s, Sotheby’s, China Beijing Poly International and China Guardian to see the kind of money that collectors are paying.

Currently, Auction houses claim that antique collectors are holding back on pieces as they received fewer items thus far this year. Undoubtedly, there is still a lot of interest in white nephrite pieces. As revelation of Ming and Qing pieces approach saturation in terms of quantity and high prices, an ongoing behind-the-scenes buying frenzy may bode well for “Gao Gu Yu” – which I will be elaborating further in a future article on “Gao Gu Yu”.

Indeed, there were down times for Chinese Jade during turmoils throughout Chinese history, such as Three Kingdoms, Western and Eastern Jin, Northern and Southern Dynasties. In my opinion, I doubt we will see a drastic downturn in Chinese Jade valuation unless China falls flat on its face. Until China qualifies as a developed country (or if the USA says so), there is still room for improvement on valuation. Lastly, I guess Warren Buffett’s “to be greedy when others are fearful and fearful when others are greedy” is perfect to summarize this article. 
-=They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To=-

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