Throughout history, jadeites have been highly prized and worn by the rich and famous, many of whom were legendary female figures from the ruling class and notable fashion icons of all times, including Empress Dowager Cixi of China, Madame Chiang Kai-Shek and Madame Wellington Koo, wife of the famous Chinese diplomat V. K. Wellington Koo.
The most famous jadeite patron of Imperial descent was definitely Empress Dowager Cixi. Her love for jadeites was so intense that it was undoubtedly an infatuation; be it a jadeite hairpin, or a pair of jadeite pendent earrings, lush green is the colour that would match whatever outfit she was pleased to wear. It was rumoured that she prized fine jadeites way above the most fiery and magnificent diamond. Once an envoy presented a large size flawless diamond to the Empress in court, to which the Empress threw an oblivious glance and immediately ordered her servants to place the diamond aside. Another councilor brought with him a tiny piece of fine jadeite, the Empress was overpowered by delight and demanded that the councilor be greatly rewarded.
Der Ling, who was the first lady-in-waiting to the Empress Cixi, put her experience from the Qing court into writings and compiled Imperial Incense. Certain excerpts from the book recorded the avish gifts, particularly jadeite jewelleries, which were presented to the Empress from ouncilors of various rankings, wishing for the Empress’ favour in return.
In that hidden treasure chamber where the Empress stored all her treasures was a collection of tributes and gifts presented to her from chancellors, chanceries, generals, governors and officials, as well as foreign envoys, the total number of such treasures are ndeed striking. I don’t think any of us would be able to guess how much there are worth, not even the Empress herself! […] Despite these incessant gifts, which was enormous in sum, but not every individual item is of superb quality; and when it does, it would not live up to the Empress ideal. So the Empress deployed great sum of money and huge manpower, sending the eunuchs to search for specific rare jewels and gemstones; regardless of distance, the uest can take place as near as in the city of Beijing, or in a very, very far location. The amount of money spent for a single treasure an be extremely shocking! (translated from Chinese text)
The Empress Dowager was especially fond of two kinds of gemstones, one being natural white pearls, and the other, jadeite, it is only logical to ind that these made up the majority of those treasures that were buried alongside the Empress. According the Aiyuexuan Notebook, rumoured to be written by Head Eunuch Li Lianying, and also notes made during the excavation of the mpress’ grave, there was a quilt of pearls seven inches thick, two jadeite watermelons, two jadeite cabbages, a jadeite lotus leaf and four jadeite melons, as well as a demon-quelling wand, and the reputable pair of jadeite bangles. It was believed that the bangles were a gift from Xianfeng Emperor when she was named the Imperial concubine, and she kept these on her wrists for the rest of her life in fond remembrance of her late husband, and brought them eventually with her to the grave. These set of valuable bangles were estimated to be worth 420,000 teals at that time, a conversion to the modern day currencies computes a hefty sum of 70 million yuan.
Portrait of Empress Dowager Cixi
Madame Chiang Kai-shek, also known by her maiden name as one of the three Soong Sisters, Soong May-ling is a keen collector of spectacular jadeite jewelleries. She also stands as a style icon from the Republican period, tastefully pairing fashionforward qipao with elegant jadeite jewelleries, presenting this oriental gem’s mystifying charm to an international audience. One of her favourite jadeite jewels was a pair of jadeite bangles with twisted pattern, she was often seen wearing these on important occasions and while attending grand banquets. It might seem surprising to know that these bangles were originally purchased by a legendary Shanghainese personage Du Yuesheng in early 20th century for his wife. This pair of bangles was described to be ‘innovative, of bright intense green colour and sumptuously translucent’. When Madame Chiang Kai-shek saw this flash of attractive green on Madame Du’s wrists, she was wildly amazed, and Madame Du seized the opportunity to pass these two bangles to Madame Chiang. Soong May-ling was photographed wearing this pair of bangles at her hundredth birthday party that took place in New York in 1998, looking absolutely stunning for her age and her graceful demeanor was effortless as ever.
Photo of Madame Chiang Kai-shek
Another leading fashion icon of that time was Madame Wellington Koo, beautiful daughter of successful businessman ‘Sugar King’ Oei Tiong Ham and wife of legendary Chinese diplomat V. K. Koo. She was said to be brought up wearing an 18-carat diamond at the age of eight, and had always lived a life of ultimate extravagance. Her instinctive sense of style was reflected in her outfits that often merge Western inspiration with Oriental charm. By the age of thirty she was already named one of the best dressed ladies in the world. When Madame Wellington Koo re- ettled in Beijing in 1920s, she began to develop an interest in jadeite. In her autobiography No Feast Lasts Forever, she mentioned a particular incident, in which she wagered with Sir Victor Sassoon that she could find the most beautiful jadeite in China. In the end, she found a remarkable jadeite pepper, reputedly from the collection of the Empress Cixi, and won the bet. She further described this unusual piece of jadeite in the subsequent paragraphs.
“ Later, I took the pendant to Cartier, who made it into a pendant with a 25 carat diamond link. Louis Cartier was so overwhelmed with the beauty of the pepper that he would not allow anyone in the shop when he was working on my pendant. He told me that the piece was so unique that no value could be put on it for insurance purpose. I have had great pleasure in owning such a treasure. People have rarely noticed the diamonds in the pendant because the jade is so compelling…”
Photo of Madame Wellington Koo
7 April 2014 | Hong Kong