How to Collect Antique Chinese Jade 101


“Jade Experts Shouting Fakes Until They Own It.”

The statement above is widely used by forum owners and dealers as defence, but rarely appreciates the culture and history behind Chinese Jade. These people only seek to conjure a fantasy or mystery behind the ultimate aim of selling the piece in question to the ill-informed, or more crudely the next sucker. When they are unable to debate factually and constructively, they will question how long have you been in this line and many other unrelated issues that deviate from discussing the actual piece.

Considering a different angle, I can understand why this statement became so popular. Let’s face it. There are just too many fakes and reproductions out there. Concurrently, there are just as many deluded collectors, who simply dives into the hobby and buy whatever they come across, and flip-quickly-to-make-a-quick-buck dealers. At the same time, research materials on the internet, books and auction catalogues are also full of land mines.

China, Chinese, Jade, Nephrite, Antique, Archaic, Archaistic, Collecting, Auction, Dealer, Art, Fake, Reproduction

With all the confusion and accusations, so how should a beginner approach collecting Chinese Jade nowadays?

  1. Begin with a mindset to accept the fact that you can and will make mistakes – It will be a major area, which could make or break you, especially if you do not have a good eye mentor or genuine specimens to feel and study the differences. This process can be less painful by strictly following the next few points.
  2. Learn from a range of sources, but practise healthy skepticism – The wide array of museums, forums, books and auction catalogues may seem overwhelming and individuals tend to follow certain authors, author-collectors, auction houses, museums and private collections. Beginners beware! Not all auction houses, authors, forums and private collections are reliable! Focus on major auction houses, established museums and well-documented private collections. In addition, I have been compiling a list of dubious websites, forums, auction houses and personal collections, which I am happy to share if you would like to find out more.
  3. Focus on a particular period and avoid jack of all trades – Fascinated by Shamans and Ritual importance of Chinese Jade history more than 2000 years ago, one can study the Neolithic period namely the Hongshan, Liangzhu and Qijia Culture. However, note that the fakes and reproductions attributed to this era have created a different breed of collectors who are suffering from the delusion that their huge, erotic and alien looking “Neolithic” pieces are correct as opposed to those in museums or reputable auction houses. Alternatively, if you appreciate the change in stylistic carvings due to rampage of warlords during the Eastern Zhou period, that’s another story. Prefer stuff that are closer in terms of dating and probably more written records? Ming and Qing jade pieces are the buzz of the town.
  4. Compile research and verify against reputable museum/auction pieces – During research, you will come across huge, erotic, alien looking, poorly carved and non-Chinese culture motifs. Simply compare them to excavated relics and you will understand. The devil is in the details.
  5. Collect what you can afford comfortably while being wary about too good to be true pieces – There are new collectors who actually borrow money to build their collection, which I think is very wrong to begin with. One should always collect what you can afford. Drop the thought of you getting a great bargain by paying a few hundred bucks for an antique jade piece that’s probably worth tens or hundreds of thousands – extremely rare but not impossible.
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6 responses to “How to Collect Antique Chinese Jade 101

  1. Unless one has years of experience in Chinese arts, symbols and ancient customs, collecting jade “treasures” can be an expensive and disappointing hobby. Except for those who have relied on the help of professionals, museums, and the best auction houses, most “jade” collections are a combination of poor quality jade and other hard stones carved to resemble ancient symbols or strange beasts, and treated to make them appear old or excavated. These are actually trinkets and, like any collection of pretty stones, seashells or shot glasses, rarely include pieces of value.

    Other collectors may not seek ancient or archaic pieces, but concentrate on beautifully carved and polished pieces, jewelry, or pieces well carved and of certain dynasties or eras. These collectors are generally financially prepared to buy pieces that compliment their collections.

    Unfortunately, the trinket collectors sometimes begin to believe they have pieces that are identical to pieces sold at high prices in the major auction houses and they refuse to believe that they do not have a valuable piece.

    Alyhough I have collected jade for more than 70 years, and own some beautiful and valuable pieces, I do not consider myself a jade expert. I have never collected a poorl;y carved or poorly polished piece, and I have never attempted to convince myself that I have found a rare treasure. I acknowledge that my collection includes dynasty and fine quality pieces of art, but all were selected for their quality of jade, carving, design and finish. I have been fortunate in finding some fine pieces in small town in California where Chinese settled more than a hundred years ago. I do not collect, appraise, or comment on or have any interest in trinket peices purchased on-line or on the streets of Taipei and believed to be ancient treasures..

    If one seeks to build a valuable collection, shop private galleries and reputable auction houses, and be prepared to spend money. If quantity is the goal, stay with the trinkets but please do not try to convince others that you

    • Roger, I am fortunate to have a good mentor here in Singapore. Perhaps we can meet up some time if you are coming down to this tiny island. While I agree on most of your observations, more work needs to be done on your humility. With all due respect to your 70 years of experience, you sound so full of yourself (do be mindful of the subtle arrogance in your choice of words) that I’m not sure if you understand the true spirit of a Chinese Jade collector. I had a good laugh when you claimed that you are not a jade expert but so good in collecting fine pieces. In fact, I strongly disagree in your attitude about not studying online purchased pieces or along the streets of Taipei. Simply enriching yourself on the correct stuff is insufficient today. At the end of the day, one of my goals is simply to educate the masses, especially elderly people who waste their hard-earned money on fakes or modern reproductions. I’m glad that my blog provided an additional avenue for you to let off some steam besides Asian Art Forum.

  2. HeHe- It begins again!!! Think Rogers heart is in the right place… The sensible collector should really stay away from the archaic…In my opinion even in the TOP auction houses 75%+ is actually of later manufacture…I would say to pick and concentrate on a dynasty from the Song-Qing as the jade pieces and techniques used in these periods is well documented… With archaic pieces you can never be sure of their age, whereas, (to me anyway) a copy of a ming piece will always stand out a mile – Bottom line- always buy beautifully carved jade- It will have a value whatever its age!

    • Sensible. Song-Qing. Well documented. Indeed, it is easier to focus on the Song-Qing Jade pieces. I love pieces with credible provenances as well. However, I do not think highly of those who swear by only-genuine-with-provenance and arrogantly denounce, discredit and scare others with statistics without focusing on the piece in question. Frankly, they are simply lazy to objectively evaluate, which often involves extensive research and sharp eye, a potential Chinese Archaic Jade versus the long Chinese Jade history. Truly astute Chinese Jade connoisseurs transcend being simply sensible and quietly recognizes the potential in Chinese Archaic pieces among private collections out there.

  3. Hi all,
    I am mostly involved in archaic jades and especially Liangzhu. I am French speaking so apologize for my English. I don’t really care when a specimen is beautiful if it is a fake or not. What is a fake? A Liangzhu jade can be a Han copy (like those found in more recent tomb of amateurs). I know that copies can be made with intentionally defaults etc. But when a piece is nice, even a nice copy, I like it and that is the main thing. I don’t care to show my collection with the prices I paid on Ebay but also great specimen bought years ago; look on my file (in French but very easy to understand or use a translator) on my website.www.francismichel.com . To be able to identify “fake” you must have fakes in your collection. It is quite easy to identify nephrite (see my file) more than jadeite. I have a tester (praesidium duotester) to measure thermo-conductibility generally used for diamond’s which works also for other gems like nephrite and jadeite, serpentine, quartz etc. There are also nice dynamometers to measure density (in and out water) I use very good books (see biblio in my file) to recognize the styles. It is difficult to find large collections on the web, please help.
    Francis

    • Francis, thank you for commenting on my blog, but I have strong doubts on your collection. Pardon me for saying this, but I could not find a single jade piece in your collection that could potentially be genuine archaic jade. Most pieces show very severe surface alterations, which are in fact contrary to what astute collectors observe on genuine Chinese Archaic Jade since the Neolithic period (few but not all) – merely a gimmick to fool ill-informed collectors. Overall workmanship of your pieces are generally poor and lack the spirit of true archaic masterpieces. Experienced collectors avoid eBay and frankly do not care about the prices. Good luck.

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