Is My Jade Carving Real? A Brief Introduction to Identifying Jade
Lark Mason, Jr.
10 Steps to help determine if your jade is authentic
1. Examine the shape to see if it matches known examples in museums. Most museums have open databases to do research such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
2. Look for evidence of age such as small chips, scratches around the foot and areas where the object might have come into contact with a hard surface, and possibly burial dirt or other materials adhering to the surface if it is an ancient jade object.
3. See if there is a label or tag or bill of sale attached to the item that shows if a knowledgeable person or reputable company sold it, and if so, how they identified it.
5. See if the stone can be scratched by steel. True jade is extremely hard and will not scratch with a pointed metal tip.
6. Glass has bubbles captured in the ‘metal’ as it cools, look with a magnifying glass for bubbles and soft edges of designs.
7. Jade is cool to the touch and takes a longer time to warm up than glass.
8. If there is a chip, it will be ’scalloped shaped’.
9. Many old jade objects have accession numbers showing that they were once part of a Museum collection, these are usually painted numbers on the underside.
10. Check the size. Very large sized items are usually modern and most often will have multiple pieces glued together. Look for joined segments.
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More about Jade
Chinese artisans have used jade for thousands of years for ritual objects and works of art. The earliest jade carvings were made for inclusion in burial sites to accompany the deceased to the next world.
Over time, the use of jade expanded beyond ritual burial purposes to embellishing bronze vessels, weapons, furniture, clothing, jewelry, and other works of art.
The association of Jade with restorative and protective properties, the beautiful range of colors, and scarcity made objects of jade desirable. Jade is a very hard stone, registering between 6-7 on the Mohs hardness scale so it can only be carved by abrasion. In pre-industrial times foot treadles powered a spinning cutting edge with sand affixed by sticky substance.
China has relatively few supplies of jade so jade and other hard stones were imported from foreign sources. Prior to the Qing Dynasty(1644-1911) jade was scarce. In the Qing Dynasty China expanded their borders in the North West and South West, opening up trade along the ‘Silk Trade Route’ that gave access to supplies of jade and other hard stones.
During the Qing Dynasty jade and hard stone carving reached its zenith in China, with imperial patronage making works of art made from jade popular among the aristocracy and wealthy merchant class. Centers of jade carving flourished in China during the Qing Dynasty in Guangdong province and also in the capital city, Beijing.
With the popularity of jade, there were many imitations. Glass was introduced into China over the Silk Trade Route from the Middle East during the3rd -5th centuries BC and glass objects were made in imitation of the same forms in jade.
Though beautiful, ancient burial jades have a limited appeal to a relatively small group of scholars and dedicated collectors who are knowledgeable about their subject and purchase examples through auction and from specialized galleries.
Most glass copies of jade vessels are modern and are loosely based on Qing Dynasty designs. Many of these fakes are white and transparent, providing few clues to determine the material.
Jade has a tightly interlocking fibrous crystalline structure which chips in a conchoidal shape (scallop-shape).
Molded glass objects based on Qing originals are differentiated from jade by the rough edges of the molded elements that lack crisp details and may have a ‘frosted’ or ‘sugary’ appearance.
There is a greater demand for jade-like stone carvings based on Qing prototypes because the original works are scarce and realizing higher and higher prices at auction. Qing jade vessels are usually based upon ancient bronze vessels, and other popular subjects are figures, plants and animals, landscapes and natural formations.
Most modern carvings originate from workshops in Asia, primarily in the People’s Republic of China and often these objects are in forms that are obviously new.
Fine quality copies based on early Qing designs almost always are carved from actual jade material, because the costs involved in the production is not the material, but the workmanship. These copies can be difficult to identify and in general are often extremely well-designed and carved. When considering a purchase of a jade carving, it is important to know the provenance, to see if associated items such as storage boxes or stands are original to the object and have age, and that the object is in a form and style of carving that favorably compares to other similar examples. It is also important to work with a knowledgeable and trusted expert.
Stones similar to jade are used for modern carvings that are usually inferior or have some sort of labor-saving aspect to the carving, typically a repetitive pierced latticework design or elements that are glued together to create a larger object from smaller pieces. One of the most common stones used to imitate jade is onyx which is as hard as jade and to the novice collector may appear very similar. White onyx and other stones that imitate jade usually have odd inclusions or cloudy areas in the material and if glass, will have bubbles that are visible with a loupe. In general, objects made of stones that imitate jade are modern, mostly created inAsian workshops roughly from 2000 up to the present. There are many sources to learn about jade and one of the most comprehensive books was edited by Roger Keverne, titled Jade.
Auction catalogs from Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Bonhams are an excellent source of information as are exhibition catalogs. And the best sources for viewing are museum collections, such as the Metropolitan Museum inNew York and other regional museums and periodic auction sale exhibitions held during Asia Week New York each March. Asia Week provides a unique opportunity to see jade carvings offered by the top international experts and meet specialists and other collectors.