We often hear of record-breaking diamond pieces fetching astronomical prices at auctions, but we don’t usually see jade making headlines.
Don’t be fooled, jade jewellery remains highly sought-after, especially for buyers in Asia. We sit down with Wenhao Yu, deputy chairman of jewellery at Sotheby’s Asia, to find out why jade is as important as ever with premium auction houses as well as how jewellery collecting trends have been affected in recent times.
The Asian market remains resilient even in these challenging times, which always accelerate change and innovation. It has not been easy, but our strategy of focusing on top quality jewellery, by acting quickly to expand our online auction program as well as efforts in exploring new auction formats has paid off. With aggregate sales totalling HK$469 million year-to-date and all three online sales in the upper half of this year 100 percent sold, Sotheby’s is leading the jewellery auction market in Asia.
Our strong results show there is persistent demand for top quality jewels – like great art, they endure and shine through the most challenging of circumstances. We have observed that collectors often look to jewellery as an alternative investment in such times.
Jadeite has always been a core jewellery category at Sotheby’s Asia since we introduced it to the international auction market in the 1970s. In the Magnificent Jewels spring auction held this July, jadeite jewellery sales totalled HK$137 million, which was second only to diamonds.
Rarity is a key factor that drives price of top-quality jadeite. Like top quality diamonds, top jade is extremely rare in nature, so when exceptional jadeite pieces appear, great prices result. Auction prices are also affected by other factors such as quality and provenance, so it’s hard to say which one is worth more.
In Asia, however, jadeite has always held a special status. Highly prized in Chinese culture, jadeite has had a long history as a symbol of royalty and privilege, bearing special significance as the gem of choice for the region’s royalty. Rightfully, this has piqued the interest of established jewellery connoisseurs like the late Woolworth’s heiress Barbara Hutton, whose collections mesmerised the jewellery world. The Hutton-Mdivani Necklace set a world record at auction when it was acquired by the Cartier Collection for HK$214 million in 2014.
Top quality jadeite has always been well sought after in Asia. Many of our loyal customers are repeat buyers of classic style jadeite, and there is an emerging new generation of buyers who find jadeite jewellery with a modern design appealing.
It’s also worth noting that jadeite is attracting growing interest from outside Asia, as the proportion of non-Asian buyers has grown steadily in the last decade. In the last three years, non-Asian buyers accounted for almost 30 percent of jadeite lots sold at Sotheby’s. We can attribute this to the more transparent grading standard and pricing system we’ve adopted at our auctions as well as our continuing efforts to diversify our jadeite offerings to potential clients.
Like diamonds, jadeite can be evaluated through the speculation of Colour (the hue and the evenness of colours), Clarity, Cut and Carat. Translucence is another key factor in distinguishing jadeite quality – the more translucent, the higher the “water content” and thus its value.
We work with world renowned gemmological laboratories such as SSEF and Gübelin to distinguish the top grading of Imperial Green jadeite, the finest specimens of Type A jadeite that are almost transparent with a vibrant emerald green colour. This is due to the presence of chromium, which is typical of the finest green jadeite from northern Myanmar. They all have outstanding translucency with very fine and densely interlocked texture, thus resulting in a glowing effect through scattering of light when illuminated by a light source. The grading of Imperial Green helps the market place top quality jadeite within an understanding similar to the calibre of Pigeon Blood Rubies, Royal Blue Sapphires, and Type IIa Diamonds.
Sotheby’s also adopts a price-per-carat analysis for Imperial Green Jadeite as we believe it is important to give more transparency to this culturally and historically important gem for collectors worldwide.
Always buy the best quality ones that you can afford. Study the market, research through available options and learn as much as you can. You will find that you appreciate their beauty even better once you learn more about them.
Quality, rarity, and provenance are all critical factors in the valuation of jewellery. While we work closely with gem labs to assess gemstones (including jadeite), our specialists also lend their expertise to evaluate other aspects of the jewels including their condition, uniqueness and provenance. It is a job that takes a lot of love and passion, but we are lucky and grateful to be able to handle some of the world’s rarest treasures that come through our doors.