HomeValue factor: Fashioning(Cut) in Jadeite-Jade



More so than for most gem materials, fashioning plays a critical role in jadeite beauty and value. Typically, the finest qualities are cut for use in jewelry – as cabochons, bracelets, or beads. Cutters often specialize: one may do rings, another carvings, and so on.

Polish is particularly important with jadeite. Fine polish results in fine luster, so that light can pass cleanly in and out of a translucent or semi-transparent piece. One method of judging the quality of polish is to examine the reflection of a beam of light on the surface of a piece of jadeite. A stone with fine polish will produce a sharp, undistorted reflection, with no "orange-peel" or dimpling visible.
Following are a few of the more popular cutting styles of jadeite.

Cabochons. The finer qualities are usually cut as cabochons (see figure 1). One of the premium sizes – the standard used by many dealers' price guides – is 14 x 10 mm (Samuel Kung, pers. comm., 1997). Material used for cabochons is generally of higher quality than that used for carvings (Ou Yang, 1999), although there are exceptions.
With cabochons, the key factors in evaluating cut are the contour of the dome, the symmetry and proportions of the cabochon, and its thickness. Cabochon domes should be smoothly curved, not too high or too flat, and should have no irregular flat spots. Proportions should be well balanced, not too narrow or wide, with a pleasing length-to-width ratio (Ng and Root, 1984). The best-cut cabochons have no flaws or unevenness of color that is visible to the unaided eye.
Since the 1930s, double cabochons, shaped like the Chinese ginko nut, have been considered the ideal for top-grade jadeite, since the convex bottom is said to increase light return to the eye, thus intensifying color (Christie's, 1996). Stones with poor transparency, however, are best cut with flat bases, since any material below the girdle just adds to the bulk without increasing beauty. Hollow cabochons are considered least valuable (Ou Yang, 1999).
Traditionally, when fine jadeite cabochons are mounted in jewelry, they are backed by metal with a small hole in the center. The metal acts as a foilback of sorts, increasing light return from the stone. Also, with the hole one can shine a penlight through the stone to examine the interior, or probe the back with a toothpick to determine the contours of the cabochon base (Ng and Root, 1984). When this hole is not present, one needs to take extra care, as the metal may be hiding some defect or deception.
Tino Hammid, Christie's Hong Kong, jade, Burma jade, Hpakan, jadeite mining, nephrite, maw-sit-sit, Burmese jade
Figure 25. Uniformity of a fine "emerald" green colour, superb translucency, size, and symmetry all come together to produce the necklace known as the Doubly Fortunate. The 27 beads, which range from 15.09–15.84 mm, were all cut from the same piece of rough, a 1 kg portion of a much larger boulder. The name derived from the fact that the necklace's owners "doubled their fortunes" every time the boulder was cut (Christie's, 1997, p. 70). The necklace sold in 1997 for approximately US$9.3 million. Photo courtesy of and © Christie's Hong Kong and Tino Hammid.

Beads. Strands of uniform jadeite beads are in greater demand than those with graduated beads. The precision with which the beads are matched for color and texture is particularly important, with greater uniformity resulting in greater value (figure 25). Other factors include the roundness of the beads and the symmetry of the drill holes. Because of the difficulties involved in matching color, longer strands and larger beads will carry significantly higher values. Beads should be closely examined for cracks. Those cracked beads of 15 mm diameter or greater may be recut into cabochons, which usually carry a higher value than a flawed bead (Ng and Root, 1984).

Bangle Bracelets. Bangles are one of the most popular forms of jadeite jewelry, symbolizing unity and eternity. Even today, it is widely believed in the Orient that a bangle will protect its wearer from disaster by absorbing negative influences. For example, if the wearer is caught in an accident, the bangle will break so that its owner will remain unharmed. Another common belief is that a spot of fine color in a bangle may spread across the entire stone, depending on the fuqi – good fortune – of the owner (Christie's, 1995a). In the past, bangles (and rings) were often made in pairs, in the belief that good things always come in twos (Christie's, 1997).
Figure 26. Believed to date back at least four millennia in China, the jade bangle is both one of the oldest and one of the most important pieces of jewelry in the Chinese culture. This superb jadeite bangle sold for US$2,576,600 at the Christie's Hong Kong November 1999 auction. The interior diameter is 49.50 mm; the jadeite is 8.36 mm thick. Photo courtesy of and © Christie's Hong Kong and Tino Hammid. Tino Hammid, Christie's Hong Kong, jade, Burma jade, Hpakan, jadeite mining, nephrite, maw-sit-sit, Burmese jade

Because a single-piece bangle requires a large quantity of jadeite relative to its yield, prices can be quite high, particularly for fine-quality material. The bangle in figure 26 sold for US$2,576,600 at the Christie's Hong Kong November 1999 auction. Multi-piece bangles are worth less than those fashioned from a single piece, because the former often represent a method of recovering parts of a broken bangle. Mottled material is generally used for carved bangles, as the carving will hide or disguise the imperfections. When a piece is carved from high-quality material, however, it can be a true collector's item (Ng and Root, 1984).

Huaigu (pi). The Chinese symbol of eternity, this is a flat disk with a hole in its center, usually mounted as a pendant or brooch. Ideally, the hole should be one-fifth the diameter of the entire disk and exactly centered. Small pairs are often used in earrings or cufflinks (figure 27).
Tino Hammid, Christie's Hong Kong, jade, Burma jade, Hpakan, jadeite mining, nephrite, maw-sit-sit, Burmese jade Figure 27. These fine matched huaigu (each approximately 19 x 4.5 mm) have been set as cufflinks, with diamonds inserted into their center holes. Each is linked to a saddle top of comparable material. Photo courtesy of and © Christie's Hong Kong and Tino Hammid.
Saddle Rings (su an). Carved from a single piece of jadeite, these look like a simple jadeite band onto which a cabochon has been directly cut. Saddle rings allow the most beautiful area to be positioned on top of the ring, while the lower part is relatively hidden, whereas a standard jadeite band should have uniform color all around. Saddle tops are the top piece of a saddle ring, without the band portion.
Double Hoop Earrings (lian huan). These require a large amount of rough relative to their yield, since they are cut from two pieces of the same quality, each of which must produce two hoops.

Carvings. For the most part, the jadeite used in carvings is of lower quality than that used for other cutting styles, but nevertheless there are some spectacular carved jadeite pendants and objets d'art. The intricacy of the design and the skill with which it is executed are significant factors in determining the value of the piece. Carving is certainly one area where the whole equals more than the sum of the parts.

Recut Recovery Potential. As with many other types of gems, the value of poorly cut or damaged pieces is generally based on their recut potential. For example, it might be possible to cut a broken bangle into several cabochons. Thus, the value of the broken bangle would be the value of the cabochons into which it was recut (Ng and Root, 1984). If three cabochons worth $500 each could be cut from the bangle, its value would be about $1,500.

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