Where East Meets West

After collating Chinese Jade feedback on various auction houses, I figured that it will be beneficial to share these information. There are 3 types of auction houses that Chinese Jade collectors should take note of. I will not be debating on who’s better, however, you can decide on which fits your philosophy of collecting Chinese Jade best based on the respective observations:

China, East, West, Chinese, Jade, Nephrite, Auction, Appraisal, Antique, Archaic, Archaistic, Provenance, Stylistic, Carvings

Western Titans

  • Focus on Song, Liao, Jin, Yuan, Ming and Qing Chinese Jade pieces.
  • “Traceable” Provenance – No doubt traceable provenance lends a great deal of credibility and minimizes the risk of it being a quality modern reproduction. Previous transaction records at reputable auction houses (including their own) also qualify as provenance for some pieces. Indeed, this resulted in showcasing some of the finest pieces from the above periods.
  • Wealthy Social Status and Noble Lineage – Ever wondered what do they mean by “traceable” then? It is not as simple as just anyone providing receipts or past transactions details.  Sellers, and most often buyers as well, tend to be millionaires or wealthier, well-documented private collections in museums and descendants of Royal families or War veterans.
  • No “Rich Enough” Provenance, Attitude Changes – Upon determining that one has no “rich enough” provenance, most or all exquisite carvings become modern workmanship, victims of sweeping statements and not much age to it. In short, do not waste their time. Perhaps they need to be reminded that before the Ming and Qing periods, the Eastern Zhou (Spring & Autumn and Warring States) to Western Han Dynasty artisans produced some of the finest workmanship and spirit that modern carvers are unable to emulate.

China, East, West, Chinese, Jade, Nephrite, Auction, Appraisal, Antique, Archaic, Archaistic, Provenance, Stylistic, Carvings

If a commoner presented the above piece to the Western Titans, without proper provenance, it is likely to be viewed as modern carvings, too stiff, artificial surface calcification and loosely packed curls that are not indicative of the suggested period. Instead of wasting your time, let’s look at the alternative.

Upcoming Chinese Giants

  • Neolithic to Qing and Modern Exquisite Pieces.
  • Provenance and Stylistic Carvings – Provenance is still important. Interestingly, the Chinese auction houses are willing to lend more weight towards appraising stylistic carvings of Chinese Archaic and Archaistic Jade pieces according to periods, probably due to their better understanding of Chinese Jade Culture. Note that this approach generally results in lower valuation most of the time unless the provenance is rock solid.
  • Venturing Out of China – Major Chinese auction houses are strategically establishing their presence, Hong Kong as the first stop, around the world to put eyes on the ground in search of lost relics and challenge Western Titans.
  • Frauds, Bribery and State-Linked – Still we have to be cautious given the infamous Han-style chair/stool incident and Jade Burial Suit scandal. Some organizations are state-linked and one cannot help but worry if they could suddenly slap the crime of stealing national relics and confiscate your collection.

While it is unfortunate to learn about the extent of looting at Eastern Zhou and Han tombs, one cannot deny that there are genuine relics from those periods among astute private collectors. This situation has been adversely affected by the rampant fakes and absence of official guidelines and regulations on appraising Chinese Archaic Jade. While Chinese officials vow to clamp down and regulate this area, it will take time to build confidence given the high standards of faking Chinese Antiques.

China, East, West, Chinese, Jade, Nephrite, Auction, Appraisal, Antique, Archaic, Archaistic, Provenance, Stylistic, Carvings

Local/Regional/Estate Clearing Auctions

  • Generally Mediocre Workmanship.
  • Be Skeptical – East or West, it rarely matters with today’s globalization. It is not a secret that modern reproductions and fakes have been planted overseas where perpetrators think that collectors like to seek out bargain purchases in a foreign land or rural areas. Anyone could have bought a recent copy from China and throw it into his or her great grandparents attic. Unfortunately, I have little faith in this area. Focus on the piece itself.
  • Rare But Not Impossible – Recall the “Durrow Dragon” that made Irish auction history in November 2012? Good quality Chinese Jade and workmanship can be found out there, but first you need to know your stuff.

2 responses to “Where East Meets West

  1. Dave, Your article “Where East Meets West” is excellent & timely. I can’t speak about the auction activity in China, however, I can share some observations of auction activity in the U.S.A. & Europe. The influx of modern Chinese jade carving of fine quality has made a serious impact on today’s market. Many of these copies are so good that it’s virtually impossible to separate them from old pieces, especially white jade carvings from the Song – Qing Dynasties. Sometimes the only things a person can use are intuition & provenance. It is a well known fact that the Chinese Red Army was looting ancient grave sites about 30-40 years ago, & much of the looted material ended up in American & European auction houses. It is also a well known fact that the Chinese Cultural Revolution declared important cultural material like antique ceramics & jade as “reactionary & anti – revolutionary”. Provenance was a non issue in those days & Chinese antiques were eagerly purchased in the West. When the Chinese were unable to maintain the flow of antique objects to the West, reproductions & fakes soon flooded the markets. Hence, we are now dealing with a bloated supply of fakes & reproductions. Most of the jade in my collection was purchased from antique shows & shops over 40 years ago when there was little demand for it from Chinese & Western collectors, & those pieces were greatly undervalued compared to today’s market. I saw no need to save purchase receipts for those jades, & even if I did they would be of little value today. Selling the jades in my collection today would be problematic because of the lack of provenance. Many of fellow collectors are facing the same dilemma. Best regards, Al Kowsky

    Date: Fri, 11 Jan 2013 10:13:01 +0000 To: akowsky@hotmail.com

    • Thanks Alfred for sharing your experience in this area. While I applaud modern Chinese jade carving, I do not agree that it is impossible to notice the differences when compared to genuine relics. In my opinion, those differences are only visible to those willing to spend great effort studying excavated pieces in greater detail. The article above was inspired mainly from reactions towards Chinese Archaic Jade that are pre-Song Dynasty. Would love to see some of your collection if possible, chineseguyu@hotmail.com. Cheers!

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