A saying in Chinese goes, ‘While gold is valuable, jade is invaluable.’ The history of jade stretches way back to the Stone Age, where it served as embellishment, or gave weapons such as daggers. It was in 3000BC that jade officially was christened in China in a single character, yù. It’s note-worthy that the character yù was exactly the same as wáng, meaning emperor – save that jade had a dot added to the Chinese character.
It was a precious stone adorned by royalties. “Numerous emperors such as Emperor Qianlong of the Qing dynasty were huge fans of this gemstone, amassing large collections of priceless jadeite jewellery items and statues during his reign,” Singaporean jeweller Choo Yilin explains.
Emperor Qianlong reigned China from 1735 till death in 1799. His seal, carved out of a luminous block of green jade – surfaced at Sotheby’s in 2009, and was auctioned for approximately $6 million. A year later his personal seal, an incredibly white block of translucent white jade was put under the hammer at Bonhams for an estimated $10 million.
“The ancient Chinese truly believed in the inherent beauty and significance of jade as a gift from the gods and thus revered it throughout the centuries,” the 35 year-old continued. She pulled out a beautiful quote by Chinese philosopher, Confucius.
'Wise men have seen in jade all the different virtues. It is soft, smooth and shining, like kindness; it is hard, fine and strong, like intelligence; it’s edges seem sharp, but do not cut, like justice; it hangs down to the ground, like humility; when struck, it gives a clear, ringing sound, like music; the stains in it, which are not hidden and which add to its beauty, are like truthfulness; its brightness is like heaven, while its firm substance, born of the mountains and waters, is like the earth.'
On working with jade, Choo thinks of herself as a vessel. “It’s an honour to be a messenger of love between two individuals.”
The 35 year-old Choo Yilin pictured at her Mandarin Gallery boutique.
Choo founded her eponymous jewellery label eight years ago. She was previously a political analyst with the country, but took on hand-making jewellery as a hobby. Since then, Choo has been sourcing for quality jade in Burma, and breathing new life into these pieces.
“Our jade bangles are probably the best examples of how we work with a conventionally traditional and ‘old-fashioned’ medium, and turn them into modern heirloom pieces.” Depending on the shade of jade, – white, lavender, light green, or a dark luminous emerald – Choo wraps a delicate web of silver or gold around the bangles.
A customary Chinese set of ceremonial wedding gold jewellery – necklace, earrings, bangle, and ring – set on white jade.
Her staff carefully notes that it’s an intricate and precise process, for the ring of metalwork around the jade bangle cannot have acute angles, nor can it be suffocating. All of the above will lead to the jade shattering. It’s an arduous product and development phase for every new design – distance between metal and jade has to be millimetres-perfect.
The metalwork of choice, draws from classic Asian artworks as well – Chinese bamboos forests, Peranakan flowers, and Japanese cherry blossoms – one which Choo deems, “can transcend fashion fads and trends for their timeless allure.”
Peranakan wreath encircles beautifully veined emerald-jade bangles.
Beyond her mainline of in-store jewellery pieces, Choo does private, bespoke orders as well. “We do work with our customers’ own jadeite pieces, but they often are on a case-by-case basis as we understand the inherent precious value of jade.” They may be ceremonial pieces for Chinese weddings, or immensely exquisite heirloom jade pieces.
“[Heirloom jade] holds a wealth of nostalgia and meaning [passed] from generations before. As such, we tend to be very selective and careful when working with personal jade pieces. Before we work on pieces like these, we usually prefer if the customer has had prior interaction, trust, and rapport with the brand.”
Delicate coins of white jade punctuated with painstakingly carved lattices of Peranakan flowers.
In choosing a good piece of jade, there are four factors to keep in mind. One, translucency; two, colour; three, clarity; and finally, texture and evenness – meaning the smoothness on surface, and colour distribution or venation within the jade.
Choo advises from experience, “From my time speaking with jade traders and experts, we’ve learnt that translucency tends to carry more weight as compared to the other factors.” Shine a small, hand-held torch through the piece of jade. If light distributes throughout the stone, you’re more or less in luck. But consumers would want to bring the jade to a certified gemstone expert, where a spectrograph can be assessed – true jade will have a smooth spectrum of light, while a imitation piece of synthetic crystal will churn out jagged lines of light.
The poetry of jade is found in its eloquence – of divinity, love, and cultural narrative. Choo points out a beautiful folk tale, “It is often said that [if] your jade bangle breaks or chips, it takes the brunt of a possible injury, or fall, on your behalf.”
Choo Yilin is available at Mandarin Gallery, Unit 02-23.
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