The best jade pieces continue to tempt buyers to dig deep in their pockets – especially those in China – despite ups and downs in the market and changing tastes. There have recently been some outstanding prices achieved at auction.
In April of last year, Christie’s in London sold a relatively simple jade necklace featuring two rows of jadeite beads with an art deco diamond clasp for £49,875 (US$77,630) against an estimate of £5,000-6,000. The following May, Sotheby’s in Hong Kong very comfortably exceeded pre-sale estimates with a jadeite bangle selling for $HK1.2m. (estimate 200-250,000), and a jadeite and diamond ring fetching a cool million Hong Kong (estimate 350,000-500,000).
This year, the attention of jade enthusiasts will be directed to an outstanding jadeite necklace (jadeite is reckoned to be the very best type of jade) known as the Hutton-Mdivani necklace and which used to be the property of the heiress Barbara Woolworth Hutton. It will be exposed for sale in April in Hong Kong by Sotheby’s in the Magnificent Jewels and Jadeite Sale and Sotheby’s anticipate it reaching more than US$12m. It was last sold at auction in 1988 in Hong Kong when it fetched US$2m. It was then the most expensive piece of jadeite jewellery ever sold.
Barbara Hutton wearing the necklace to be sold by Sotheby’s Hong Kong Sotheby’s
The importance of the necklace is not just attributed to its intrinsic beauty, but also to the likelihood of its Imperial connections. Sotheby’s suggest that ‘considering the impressive size and quality [of the beads] it is likely they would have been presented to the Imperial court . . . ‘. The auctioneers go on to assert that they could ‘possibly’ have been removed from the Imperial Palace during the instability of the late 19th century. What is known for sure is that when the beads surfaced in Europe at the end of the 19th century they were fashioned into the present necklace by Cartier in Paris.
Although, it remains a matter of supposition as to whether the beads originated from the Qing Imperial court, the necklace is indubitably a remarkable and most beautiful creation. Establishing the worth of more minor pieces remains, however, very much a subjective thing. Speaking to The New York Times, Vicki Sek, head of jewellery at Christie’s in Hong Kong, observed, “There is no formula to value jadeite. Obviously, there is the colour and shade, but you have to factor in the translucence and the material. It’s really a combination of the three.” Tackling the issue of colour, she revealed further complexities. “What is considered a good green colour is difficult to explain. At the top, we have what we call ‘vivid emerald green’, then there is ‘brilliant green’, ‘intense green’ and ‘apple green’ .”
Tricky, eh? Miss Sek admits that this is a form of internal grading at Christie’s, forms of which are used at other auction houses. It is nothing like rating gold or other precious stones. There is no carat system. To complicate matters further, jade does not just come in shades of green but also in lavender (currently popular); red and yellow (the result of oxidation and colour-inducing impurities); black (a deep green, the result of high iron content); and white (lacking colouring impurities).
Translucency is also categorised by most auction houses. At Christie’s they use ‘glassy translucent’ (the best), ‘highly translucent’ (next best) and ‘opaque’, which means you can’t see through the stone and, accordingly, it is not rated nearly so highly.
Real jade is now getting rarer and demand is rising, especially from China where it enjoys mystical properties. Most often it is cut and polished without facets, and the base flattened. This maximises the colour and the piece is then known as being in ‘cabochon’ style, much sought after by true collectors.