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