Jade-Heavy Jewelry Brands Like Qeelin, Zhaoyi Put New Spin On “Made In China”
Last year, Jing Daily looked at the resurgence in popularity of jade among contemporary high-end jewelry brands in China, pointing out that a new generation of ambitious home-grown Chinese designers are increasingly incorporating the precious stone into their collections. Despite jade’s often stodgy reputation and indifference among many younger Chinese — who still dream of draping their wrists in Cartier or Tiffany — among the more adventurous brands looking to create “luxury with Chinese characteristics” rather than ape predominantly western trends, jade is finding ever greater favor.
Part of this is because of jade’s unique traits. Quite simply, jade (and its rarer and more expensive cousin, jadeite) has two things going for it that most precious metals or gems don’t. One is its long history. While most Chinese brands that are looking to establish themselves globally struggle with the issue of pedigree — mainland China was, after all, without any real “brands” for most of the 20th century, and had few to speak of in the pre-revolution era — jade has a built-in heritage of thousands of years, tied closely together with centuries of Chinese history.
Though a Chinese jewelry brand may be less than 20 years old — or even less than five years old — giving jade a central role in its brand image can weave in a rich historical narrative that established diamond, gold or platinum-focused brands can’t match.
The second trait that gives jade an edge over the competition in the jewelry market is its indisputable “Chinese-ness.” Having been used for ornamental purposes in modern-day China since neolithic times, over the past several thousand years jade and jadeite have developed a resonance in Chinese culture comparable to gold and diamonds in India and the West. Despite a relative preference for diamonds and imported jewelry brands in China since the economic reforms of the late 1970s, and the country’s economic lockdown of 1949-1979, for roughly 5,000 continuous years jade was the precious stone of choice for China’s elite, becoming a distinctively “Chinese” stone despite its existence in other parts of the world, most notably in Central America. After around 1800, jade was joined by its rarer and more expensive counterpart jadeite (the majority of which is mined in modern-day Myanmar), yet both remained highly popular throughout the remainder of the Qing Dynasty.
Although many jewelry buyers in China at the high-end are less concerned with history or culture and more with flash, brand name and price tag, the rising ubiquity of Western-style diamond-heavy jewelry in the China market will likely see luxury trendsetters looking to jade and more China-infused designs in coming years — but we might not see this until the “post-80s generation” really starts to have an impact on the China luxury market.
However, we’re already seeing jade and jadeite creeping into the Chinese luxury mainstream. From the jade accents on the limited-edition, China-only Ferrari 599 HGTE to upstart fashion houses sewing jade buttons onto China-inspired designs, to the Sino-French jewelry brand Qeelin‘s recent “Tien Di” collection, China’s imperial stone is finally coming into its own again after a long absence. Earlier this year, Zhaoyi Jade (昭仪翠屋) became the first Asian company to join established international brands like Cartier, Patek Philippe, Vertu and Zegna at Shanghai’s swish Bund 18, a restored neo-classical building designed in 1923 by the British architectural firm Palmer & Turner.
While these developments may not necessarily constitute a “trend” in themselves, the growing presence of jade in designs by Chinese fashion or jewelry companies, along with the popularity of jade and jadeite among Chinese collectors at auction hints that these stones might be the best shortcut these Chinese brands have to compete on a global scale while tapping the existing demand of collectors and enthusiasts at home.