If there was a culture that was known in riches and famed for extravagance, it would have to be Chinese. To be exact, Ancient China appears to be a literal gold mine of traditional Chinese jewelry, ones that embodied the meaning of the ornate and richly detailed.
Understanding the Beauty of Ancient Chinese Jewelry
Jewelry enthusiasts who want to see what real “fancy” looks like may want to explore and take inspiration from the jewelry of Ancient China. Here are a few important things that you need to note when chasing after these fancy jewelry and the techniques that created them.
Jewelry in Ancient China
When one talks about the history of Chinese jewelry, it dates back to the olden times in the literal sense. Chinese jewelry has been around in the past 5,000 years when the Chinese living by the Yangtze River began shaping jade into different shapes to serve as protection for themselves.
Ever since the beginning, Chinese jewelry has been laden with rich meaning and significance. It embodied a lot of symbols, many of which take inspiration from nature. Traditional Chinese jewelry included images of animals and flowers, each one tagged with a specific meaning that was then granted unto the jewelry piece.
History of Chinese jewelry
Chinese jewelry meanings can vary depending on the purpose and the symbol that was used for it. The Chinese crafted jewelry for gifts of varying occasions. For the most part, Chinese jewelry became talismans of protection and success first before they were ornamental gifts.
For instance, a pendant or a ring with a turtle symbolized longevity. It mimicked the long life of turtles in the area. The kind of stones used in jewelry also held different meanings. Some combinations of jewelry and symbols held an intense power. However, Dragons carved out of jade may be among the most revered symbols in Chinese jewelry.
Who wore jewelry in Ancient China?
The rich Chinese jewelry history also marked a differentiation of classes during the olden days. While many men and women had the privilege of having jewelry made for themselves, nothing beat the jewelry that was reserved for the royal family.
Some of the most common traditional Chinese jewelry include headdresses, rings, earrings, and amulets. These are decorative pieces that showcased wealth. This is because jewelry was meticulously created then, and could only be afforded by those with ample wealth.
Yet even in the society of the haves, there was still a higher rank occupied by the Chinese royal family. They had the power to choose and exclusively use the blue color in jewelry as their power affords them to. Some designs almost became synonymous to royalty and the regal family, including the phoenix and the five-clawed dragon.
Segregation through use of jewelry
One can tell the class that a person belongs to by looking at how they used jewelry. Beyond their significant meanings as gifts, jewelry also had a practical purpose. For the common woman, they wore their hair using various materials that served as jewelry. Those who had the power to buy gold or bejeweled pieces made their status obvious through what they wore. On the other hand, some women used simple bone ornamental pieces.
Only court members usually had the resources to wear gold jewelry. After specific stones, the Chinese jewelers favored using gold as a material. They fashioned gold into different designs and images, which can then be worn as amulets or as thick metal band bracelets.
Types of Traditional Chinese Jewelry
The different dynasties of China built on the different techniques of jewelry making. Still, this does not mean that all the techniques are the same. The country’s jewelry crafting techniques have been strengthened with time, and new techniques have evolved to create signature pieces that Ancient Chinese jewelry crafters will be proud of.
Perhaps for some, Jade has become synonymous with Ancient Chinese jewelry. The jade symbolizes the qualities of hardiness, beauty, and durability, which are also admirable in a person. Some jewelry makers have carved jade into different symbols, matching the symbolic significance of the stone with the carving’s own meaning.
Because of its popularity, jade became more valued than gold and other precious metals in the earlier centuries.
Chinese jewelry and accessories makers used blue enamel glaze incorporated into the copper wire enamel. It became even more popular during the Ming Dynasty’s Jingtai period. Further down China’s history, cloisonne became one of the biggest exports. Until now, it endures as a modern design that is fit for royalty.
Considered to be one of the eight Yanjing traditional handicrafts, the technique of filigree inlaying has a long history, spanning from the time of the Shang Dynasty. This delicate art creates thin strands of precious metals formed into bangles and necklaces. Compared to jade carving, filigree inlays are rarer these days.
Gold and silver threading
Chinese artists have started restoring this technique since it disappeared slowly throughout history. Gold and silver threading first became a practice during the Shang and Zhou dynasties. They were usually used in accessories more than only jewelry. However, these creations are a testament to those who ask, “Is Chinese gold good?”
Kingfisher feather ornamentation
This technique has been transformed from its original practice. Chinese artisans used to create gold and silver jewelry, especially those with more ornate details, using kingfisher feathers. While the outcome featured magnificent designs, the use of the feathers did not make it a sustainable technique. The Chinese jewelry types created by the technique are considered traditional in a sense.
The Importance of Jade in Chinese Culture
Jade may be considered as the penultimate famous Chinese jewelry. But this does not mean that all jade stones will be equal and valuable to the eye.
Types of jade for jewelry
For starters, Chinese jewelry makers typically use two types of jade for carvings and jewelry. The first and more valuable is the jadeite. It is considered as the purest and most translucent of its kind. Contrary to expectations, jadeite does not only come in the jade or green color. It can have variations of green, as well as other variants including violet, black, and white. Jadeite’s value makes it the perfect jade stone to use for jewelry making.
On the other hand, there is also the nephrite. It is a cloudy stone that also comes in many more colors. Because of its low quality, the nephrite usually becomes the main material for carvings. The danger here is whether or not one can truly identify real jade from fake ones, especially with new techniques to make one seem like the real thing.
How jade can be fake
China has been notorious for having many low-quality or fake items come out from some of its factories. Though this is not applicable to all, many individuals tend to ask, “Is jewelry made in China real?”
For starters, some jewelry makers can easily transform low-quality jade by treating the color and adding polymer. By doing this, they can imitate the look of a real jade stone. Some experts can tell the difference between a jadeite and a transformed low-quality stone. Yet for jewelry enthusiasts who may not be as familiar with this stone, making a good yet easy purchase can be a challenge.
Understanding real from A-grade jade
What’s important to remember when buying jade is that it should be as pure as possible. The only treatment it can get without lessening its value is expert carving of the jadeite to the desired shape or symbol.
Otherwise, any kind of treatment or adulteration of the stone will greatly reduce the value. When examined by expert eyes, they can easily tell if such changes were made. If so, then your stone can be given the A-grade rating, which lowers its value.
A growing demand among the wealthy
Because of the rise in the wealthy population and the interest in jade, the precious stone has become a focal point of interest. Raw supplies of the stone receive high demand, especially high-quality ones.
More than the authenticity, which is the first expected criteria, interested enthusiasts have become interested in color and translucency in judging a particular jade piece. Many enthusiasts even appreciate the lack of ornateness, given how the simple beauty or the striking color of jadeite can already bring out its natural appeal.
Combine this with the growing interest in jade in the West, and one can expect a rise in prices and demand. Interestingly, there is also a difference in taste between cultures. While wealthy Asian collectors prefer the simple allure of a magnificently colored jade, Western clients have their eye on both the stone and, more importantly, the craftsmanship and details of the jewelry piece as a whole.
What to look for when buying jade jewelry?
When making your first purchase, it’s always good to go back to basics. Is there anything about jade that attracts your eye? What does China mean on jewelry? Does jade signify something that you feel resounds in your life? These are a few questions that can help, especially given the range of colors and translucency that jade can come with.
Next, consider the technical qualities of jade. Most jewelry experts rate finer textures on jade stones to be more valuable. This is important in enhancing translucency, making the jade look more refined and lustrous. The next criterion to look at its color; regardless of the color, the goal is to have the purest and strongest saturation as possible.
This means that if one chooses a green jade, make sure that it is the greenest shade possible. If it is lavender, best to go with one that is purely lavender, instead of one that is tinged with pink or purple. The small difference or mixture of color can greatly affect the price and value of the stone.
Buying from a trusted jeweler
Finally, a third thing to consider would be the seller you are getting your jade from. Given how easy it is to treat low-quality jade to make them appear more valuable, going with a trusted seller may be the easiest way to avoid getting a fake.
If you are wondering, “is Chinese jewelry safe?” in terms of authenticity, it’s best to go with a trusted seller. Just like when buying other fine jewelry, it pays to choose a jeweler who was either referred by a trusted source or one you always frequent.
Antique Chinese Jewelry Today
Nowadays, there is a lot of jewelry being sold online. It’s not unusual to find Chinese jewelry online, some of which may be sold at bulk prices. This is where a discerning eye will help you out immensely.
Some types, such as gold, can easily be sold online. In China, gold still remains to be an indicator of wealth and good fortune. As such, there’s still a high demand for this material.
As more old techniques have started to resurface, the face of Chinese antique jewelry is also changing even online. Some stores offer jewelry with a range of precious metals in their selections. Others have jewelry products that focus on precious stones, natural stones and beads, and even natural materials like shells and coconut shells.
Choosing between fine jewelry and fashion jewelry
Apart from the ornateness of their pieces, many jewelry enthusiasts love traditional Chinese jewelry because of their innovation and creativity. While some materials are not the same ones used in previous dynasties, the styles adapt and change not only with the demand but also with the kind of sensibilities that other Chinese artisans and jewelry makers have.
It’s also good to remember that fashion jewelry following the Chinese style pieces exist online. Sometimes, buying an inexpensive product may result in you getting your money’s worth. It’s all about research and proper vouching for when it comes to buying jewelry from any store online.
Whenever possible, find a jewelry store that has a retail and an online presence. This can help attest to their credibility and they may have a wider range of testimonials from previous customers that can help in your decision-making.
If you want to learn more about precious stones, read our article “What’s In A Gemstone? The Hidden Meaning Behind Your Favorite Gemstones.”