Jade: Imperial green gem of the East (Part 2) – decorative and ornamental jade

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Sonja McLachlan (UK)

In the second part of this five-part series of articles, I will be exploring the beautiful examples of ornamental and decorative jade carvings that can be found in many places around the world. Ancient peoples collected and sculpted jade into unique symbolic items representing their own cultures and beliefs. Today, modern jade sculpting honours this ancient symbolism whilst introducing contemporary themes, thereby widening the appeal of this ancient art form.

Maori Jade Carving

The Maoris valued jade for its toughness and it was often made into weapons and tools such as adzes and chisels used for working with wood. Modern jade carving reflects the Maori traditions with new interpretations on fishhooks, circular koru pendants and beautiful double and triple jade twists that represent bonding and friendship. Models of Kiwis, Turtles and Dolphins can also be found carved in jade.

Fig. 1. Maori-style Pendant, carved out of solid Jade. Inspired by Maori designs. Spiral – Koru – The fern fronds represent life, new beginnings, life unfolding, growth & harmony. The stylisation of Koru represents the spirit of rejuvenation.
Fig. 2. Another Maori-style pendant, fish hooks – Hei Matau. Represents strength & determination. Brings peace, prosperity, abundance and good luck. It also provides safe transport over water.

Chinese Jade Carving

The highest quality Burmese Jade is sent to China where it is used for the finest objects and religious figures. It is often found in the grave furnishings of high-ranking members of the imperial family. The raw stone is cut and processed into polished cabochons (which are dome-shaped gems with a fine, smooth lustre) and is most frequently used for setting into pendants and rings. Thin slivers of jade are also set into bracelets.

Fig. 3. Artefact replica knife – crafted in traditional native style with a jade head.
Fig. 4. Artefact replica – an adze – crafted in traditional native style with a jade head.

Mexican Jade Carving

Mexican jadeite was carved extensively into beads, figurines, pendants and mosaic masks. Because of their high value, these items were mostly worn by priests and royalty. Weapons were also fashioned from jade and examples of jade adzes and clubs have been found. The largest Mayan carved jade item unearthed so far was found at Altun Ha, 31 miles north of Belize City. This head-shaped object represented the Sun God, Kinich Ahua. Jade carving and sculpting came to an end in Central and Southern America at around the time of the Spanish conquest. However, lapidary work still continues in the area today with the creation of fine jewellery and replicas of museum pieces.

Fig. 5. Rough jade rock, as discussed in the first part of this article in Issue 9.

Peter Carl Fabergé

The famous Russian goldsmith and jeweller appointed to the Russian Court, Peter Carl Fabergé, often used nephrite jade as the semi-precious stone base for his famous Fabergé eggs. From 1844, the eggs were made as gifts from the Russian tzar to his wife. The Alexander Palace Egg, bought by the Russian Tzar as an Easter gift in 1908, was carved from nephrite. It was decorated with rubies and diamonds and shrouded in gold garlands, flowers and leaves. Around the egg are five portraits of the royal children. The egg gets it name from the surprise, miniature model of Alexander Palace contained inside.

Fig. 6. Magnificent jade lamp.

Jade in buildings

As well as being used for ornaments, jade was often used for building decoration. Jade originating from central Asia can also be found inlaid in the world famous Taj Mahal in India. Dressed jade stone has also been found in many ancient buildings throughout the Middle Motagua Valley in Guatemala.

Ornamental jade can be found in many places and in many forms. Further information on Jade in New Zealand, China and Mexico can be found on-line at following websites:

Fig. 7. This brooch has been crafted to resemble a butterfly, set into sterling silver and vermeil.

In the next part of this series I will be looking at the mineral composition and chemical properties of jade.

Fig. 8. Carved eagle on base.
Online references:
Other parts to this series comprise:
Jade: Imperial green gem of the East (Part 1) – mining the gem
Jade: Imperial green gem of the East (Part 2) – decorative and ornamental jade
Jade: Imperial green gem of the East (Part 3) – the scientific properties of jade
Jade: Imperial green gem of the East (Part 4) – the symbolic and spiritual gem
Jade: Imperial green gem of the East (Part 5) – the world marketplace

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