An ancient Chinese proverb says that “gold is valuable, jade is priceless.” Jade is also said to bring protection, prosperity, success, and good luck to the one who wears it – all certainly priceless attributes. Yet, jade does a have price. Over the past few years sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s auction houses have both seen exceptional quality imperial green jade jewelry sell for extraordinary prices.
The historic Hutton-Mdvani Jade Necklace, a gift to American heiress Barbara Hutton from her father when she married Prince Alexis Mdvani in 1933, sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong for $27 million to the Cartier Museum Collection. At Christie’s a pair of cabochon jadeite stud earrings sold for $6,687,592. Astounding prices, but most jade is much more affordable.
“Jade has a history of being a noble material,” says Naomi Sarna, who has hand-carved numerous pieces of jade. “It is held in high regard in many cultures around the world. In China jade is called the ‘Stone of Heaven’ and the Maori tribes of New Zealand consider it a sacred stone. The Mayans and Aztecs in Central America used jade as a healing stone. They also used it for jewelry and religious objects.”
TWO TYPES OF JADE
There are two types of jade — Jadeite and Nephrite. While they have much the same chemical composition, there are a couple of significant differences. Jadeite is a microcrystalline material that can appear semi-translucent in the finest material, it gets a high gloss from polishing and comes in an array of colors—green, white, black, red, lavender, yellow. Nephrite is more opaque and comes in fewer colors, generally black, grey, green, and white. Both jades are very durable.
Intrigued by jade, Sarna recently began bringing her flowing line and curves to carving the Stone of Heaven. “I always thought that jade was interesting,” says Sarna. “I was invited to participate in a jade carving competition in China. I knew nothing about jade and I had never carved it. I had a block of jade so I started carving it.”
JADE CARVING AWARDS
The result: Sarna was awarded a Silver Medal for her white jadeite carving, “Winter Bird, Spring Greens” at the 2019 Zi Gang Bei Jade Exhibition in Suzhou, China. Sarna received a Bronze Medal for her unique nephrite jade carving, “Mossy River” at the same competition in 2017.
“It was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life,” says Sarna. “It was an honor beyond belief, especially as an American woman. To my understanding, there is only one woman master jade carver. I’m not a master jade carver and I still have a lot to learn.”
In a very rare phenomenon of nature, jade can also be “chatoyant”, a French word that literally means to shine like a cat’s eyes. Mysterious and alluring chatoyant jade gets its glowing cat’s eye effect when light reflects off of filaments formed inside the stone. Sarna recently came across seven chatoyant jade spheres and was so intrigued by them that she scooped them up and brought them back to her studio where she is creating stories around each one.
TRANSPARENT VERSUS OPAQUE
Every gemstone has its own distinct mineral composition which gives the gem its attributes such as color, hardness, and even brightness. Sarna notes that each type of gemstone is different to carve. When she carves transparent material, Sarna wants a play of light between the front and back of the piece that creates a pattern. When carving jade, there is no play of light, so the carving is always either front or back. Since jade is so tough, it can be carved paper-thin to gain some opacity. The thin carving creates a subconscious awareness of light in Sarna’s art.
“It’s very different to carve jade than it is to carve other gemstones,” concludes Sarna, who adds that jade has a hardness that is close to quartz, but is a much tougher material. “Jadeite is finer and has a crispness that is nice. Nephrite is softer, but you have to follow the fibers. If you go against the fibers, it gets stubborn. It’s difficult to carve jade, but at a certain point it seems to relax and I can do more.”
Top of page: Winter Bird, Spring Greens, award-winning white jadeite carving.
By Amber Michelle
View all pieces for sale in Naomi Sarna’s Jade Jewels Collection.