The article of Zhang Rong, researcher in Palace Museum, made it evident that jadeite was greatly treasured by the Qing imperial family, the various forms of jadeite products were exclusively worn by high government officials and dignitaries: court necklaces were only worn when the Emperor and his fellow councilors attend meetings in court, officials ranked level five or below were forbidden to possess or wear court necklaces; ling guan is a tubular form of jadeite ornament, which was worn on the headdress owned by a high officials to hold a peacock feather in place, the types of feather defined hierarchy; thumb rings were designed for protection when the wearer stretches a bow, it was worn by both the Emperor and officials as a reminder to the importance of practicing martial arts; belt buckles, often carved with dragons, are part of the officials’ court costumes; as for jadeite bangles and rings, they were made available to Qing court as gifts and tributes, therefore superior pieces were reserved solely for ladies from families of honourable pedigree. Wearing jadeites, therefore, was a simple yet apparent symbol of one’s extraordinary status.

In the late 19th century, the Qing court was greatly impacted by concurring civil revolt and foreign invasion, the subsequent death of the Empress Dowager in 1908 exacerbated China’s political instability. A great number of imperial jadeite treasures were removed from the palace and found their way to general public, many of which including court necklaces were forever lost and could have been transported out of the territory, some might be refashioned to vastly different jewel pieces and necklaces.

Despite these unsettled times, jadeite stands as a symbol of ultimate opulence; exceptional jadeite works of art still commanded unthinkable prices and were worn exclusively by the extreme rich. A good example is the double-strand jadeite bead necklace from Republican Shanghai, which was sold by Sotheby’s Hong Kong in October 2013 for a stunning HK$42,680,000. Its previous owner traded a house in Shanghai for this jewel back in the Republican days, and it set a record as the fourth highest price ever fetched at international auction for jadeite bead necklaces.

A Double-strand Jadeite Bead Necklace, Circa Republican Period
Sold for HK$ 42,680,000
Sotheby's Hong Kong 7 October 2013

It is of no doubt that the previous owner of the Hutton-Mdivani Necklace was of exceeding prominence considering the spectacular quality of the jadeite beads. However, just as other treasures that were forever lost, the provenance of this necklace remains undetermined. The one thing we can be sure of is that these twenty-seven green succulent beads had already appeared in Europe during the early 1930s, we can almost say for certain that they originated from China. Bearing in mind how jadeite’s hardness and structures are different from the usual gemstones found in the West, China was definitely the place with the most technical and practical knowledge when it comes to fashioning jadeites. The perfect proportion, shape and roundness of these jadeite beads to be offered would call for the most skilled craftsman in the world, demonstrating experienced judgments paired with meticulous precision.

An Imperial Jadeite Bead Necklace,
Qing Dynesty
Sold for US$ 1,986,500
Sotheby's New York 9 December 2010

Imagine the tumultuous situations after World War I and how communication and logistics were much less developed in those days. It might take a considerable time for jadeite beads to travel across the oceans. It should also be taken into account that Cartier, as a Couture high jewellery maison, takes tremendous time for designing, sourcing the necessary components and eventually executing their art piece. The fact that these beads of supreme quality had already found their way to Europe and been customized into a piece of haute joaillerie by Cartier by the early 1930s, testified that they can be dated at least to the late Qing dynasty, and jadeites of such high quality were most probably still offered exclusively to Qing court as tributes. This leads to an interesting question that many would ask: who could possibly be the owner of such fine jadeite beads which were believed to be fashioned in late Qing dynasty?

During the late Qing and early Republican period, Beijing and Shanghai are the two cities where exceptional jadeite jewellery and works of art were being traded, one of Beijing’s leading jadeite dealers at that time was Tieh Bao Ting. In his list of distinguished clients was the famous Chinese Indonesian businessman Oei Tiong Ham, who purchased a superb jadeite bead necklace from Tieh Bao Ting, which was recently sold in 2010 at Sotheby’s New York. While the thirty jadeite beads on the Oei Tiong Ham necklace – originally from a Qing Imperial court necklace – measure 13.40 to 13.30mm in diameter, the beads on the Hutton-Mdivani Necklace currently offered are far superior in colour, texture, translucency and size, which indicates an equally, if not more distinguished original ownership. 

                                                        Magnificent Jewels and Jadeite

                                                               7 April 2014 | Hong Kong

Tags:Hong Kong, Gioielli