Jade in Chinese Jewellery
Jade, (or as we know it in New Zealand, pounamu) has always played a key role in Chinese culture, especially in the making of jewellery.
For the Chinese, jade (known as ‘yu’), symbolises good luck, peace and happiness and there is a well known Chinese saying ‘Gold is valuable, jade is invaluable.’
In China both nephrite (jade) and the much rarer jadeite (not found in New Zealand) are in use.
Usually, it is jadeite (imported from Myanmar) that is considered the best gem jade and it is used almost exclusively in the fine jewellery trade.
It has more brilliant green hues and the transparent emerald green colour from Myanmar is known as Imperial jade.
One important aspect of Chinese jade jewellery is the symbolism that underpins many of the designs. Understanding that symbolism is a key to understanding why jade is so highly regarded in China. For example, the catfish symbolises a happy marriage, kingfishers are associated with longevity, the lotus represents harmony, the peony symbolises wealth and two cats symbolise marital fidelity.
Because of its value, jade was often given in Chinese society, to mark important family events such as births and weddings. Jade jewellery became a vehicle for expressing good wishes and positive sentiments.
It’s interesting to note too, the circle motif that has recurred frequently throughout the history of Chinese jade jewellery. It’s not dissimilar to the Māori use of the circle in pounamu adornments – as the illustrations included here show.