"This business is slowly becoming extinct," Kwan Ting Leung, co-founder of jewellery label, Little Jadeite, observes her own industry. Her forlorn is anchored to a wider cultural problem – the irreparably ailing jade industry in Hong Kong.
These rocks remain firmly embedded in the country's culture, albeit only popular amongst the older generations. It was in the 50s that Chinese jade merchants relocated southwards, from Guangdong to Hong Kong, bringing the trade and craft with them. These businessmen found themselves a home in Hong Kong's famed Canton Road jade market. Later in the economic downturn, these dealers left for China once again. Till date, tourists will find remnants of the previously-glorious jade market on weekends.
Designer Eddy Tam's father's stall at the famed Hong Kong jade market.
"In Hong Kong, there was always a member [in families] wearing jade," co-founder and designer Eddy Tam explains. Jade may come in the form of bangles, necklaces, earrings and ring. In them are blessings of protection, "[bringing] safety to the wearers".
Yet, these beliefs were lost in a generational gap. Both Leung and Tam realised that in Hong Kong, "more and more local contemporary jewellery brands are rising". And they are displacing the traditional jade trade.
In a bid to re-introduce jade to the younger consumers, the couple started Little Jadeite in 2015. The entire jewellery label pivot around jade. It may seem myopic to solely utilise one material, but Leung begs to differ. "[Jadeite] is well-known for its wide range of attractive – white, green, brown, lavender, black. And the quality of jade [differs in] transparency, colour, texture and craft."
Designer Eddy Tam's father carving a piece of jade.
Unlike the singular character of gold or silver, jade is surprisingly versatile. According to Leung, the best jade should be saturated and "see-through". The colours should be evenly distributed, and its texture "smooth and delicate".
At the Little Jadeite, traditional designs are upended. Instead of "round" and polished jade, Tam opts for "angular" and sculptural designs. While jade's been conventionally paired with gold and silver, Tam settled for brass. The jewellery pieces are incredibly appealing. At a pop-up store in Tsim Sha Tsui's K-11 mall this October, there was a steady crowd pouring over Tam's designs. In the queue, I overheard customers enquiring about their jade's origins and grade.
At the heart of the jade business is credibility and authenticity. It takes a trained eye to recognise the finest stones. The couple is considerably inexperienced in this trade. But they have help. Tam's father was an active jade wholesaler in the trade's heydays. For 42 years, he traded off Hong Kong's jade market. Now, he lends his eye, carving skills and wealth of knowledge to the young couple, sourcing authentic grade A jade from Myanmar.
The Tam father and son duo.
His working relationship with his son, Tam, offers an equation, or perhaps, a solution for the revival of these bygone trades.
Tam realises that he's treading uncharted territories. "These are all new visions and [it's] such a big rush into the traditional jadeite industry," he adds. Whether if it's a case of new wine gushing into old wineskin, no one knows.
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