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Exploring the Chinese Hardstone Market: Jade, Jadeite, Coral, and Beyond

Updated: Apr 3

The market for Chinese hardstones is a rich and diverse world, encompassing a variety of precious materials that have played a vital role in Chinese art and culture for centuries. In addition to jade, jadeite, coral, and carnelian, other sculpted hardstones are garnering special interest in today's art market. In this article, we will delve deep into this market, examining the cultural significance, intricate craftsmanship, and constant demand for these hardstones, while highlighting the role of experts and introducing Asian art connoisseur Jean Gauchet and the Cabinet Gauchet Art Asiatique, which offers free valuations, appraisals, and estimates for collectors considering selling their precious treasures.

The Enigmatic World of Chinese Hardstones

Jade: The Stone of Heaven

CHINA, XIX - XXth, set of jade and jadeite pieces Consisting of a small tray and cup in spinach jade, a circular medallion decorated with a plum tree, a rectangular plate decorated with a phoenix at the foot of a pine tree and a rust-infused jade fan, in its box. Sold by Millon and estimated by Gauchet for 1,000 euros. Photo credits: Yann Girault, Millon.

Jade, often referred to as the "Stone of Heaven," holds a privileged place in Chinese culture for thousands of years. Symbolizing virtue, purity, and immortality, jade is used to create a wide range of objects, from simple jewelry to complex ritual items. The Chinese attach great importance to its protective qualities and its ability to ward off evil spirits.

In today's market, exceptional jade pieces continue to fetch staggering prices at auctions. For example, a finely carved jadeite sculpture depicting a cabbage sold for over 20 million dollars in recent years, showcasing the continued appeal of exquisite jade pieces.

Coral: The Stone of Passion

Carved orange coral branch in the form of an elegant woman standing, holding a flower basket on her shoulder. With matching carved wood base. Sold by Millon and appraised by Gauchet for 800 euros. Photo credits: Yann Girault, Millon.

Coral, known as "shānghuī" in Mandarin, is highly prized in Chinese culture for its vivid red color. It embodies passion, luck, and joy. Traditionally used in jewelry and as decorative elements, coral's value varies depending on quality, size, and craftsmanship.

Carnelian: The Stone of Protection

Small carnelian vase, China, Qing dynasty, 19th century. Sold by Artcurial for 525 euros. Photo credits: Artcurial.

Carnelian, known as "hóng yù" in Chinese, is reputed to offer protection and courage. This striking red-orange stone is frequently used in antique Chinese jewelry and accessories. Its warm and vibrant color adds a touch of elegance to various pieces.

Agate: A Palette of Colors and Patterns

CHINA, Oval sculpted agate snuffbox, in gray agate with black inclusions, with relief decoration of a horse and a monkey on one side, and a figure seated on a dragon on the other. Sold by Millon and appraised by Gauchet for 900 euros. Photo credits: Yann Girault, Millon.

Agate, a hard stone that comes in a variety of colors and patterns, is a sought-after material for creating a diverse range of decorative objects, including vases, boxes, figurines, and jewelry. Collectors are drawn to its natural diversity of colors and unique patterns.

Lapis-Lazuli: The Beauty of Deep Blue

CHINA, 20th century, set of five lapis lazuli pieces including a small covered vase, an archaizing goblet, a statuette of elegant women in serpentine and lapis, and two groups depicting chimeras. Sold by Millon and appraised by Gauchet for 500 euros. Photo credits: Yann Girault, Millon.

Lapis-lazuli, a stone of deep blue with golden veins, is also used to create art objects and sculptures in China. Its vivid color and distinctive appearance make it a precious hardstone favored by collectors.

Shoushan Stone: The Gentleness of Steatite

CHINA XVII/XVIIIth, A Luohan figure in Shoushan stone signed Yu Xuan. Sold by Rob Michiels auction. Photo credits: Rob Michiels auction.

Shoushan stone, a type of steatite, is prized for its smooth texture and ease of carving. It is commonly used to create seals, statues, and decorative objects. Its smooth texture makes it ideal for detailed work.

Cinnabar: The Color of Scarlet

CHINA, Qianlong period, 18th century Rare and important rectangular "kang" cabinet in carved cinnabar lacquer. Sold by Millon and appraised by Gauchet for 24,000 euros. Photo credits: Yann Girault, Millon.

Cinnabar is a hard stone of scarlet red, used for creating cinnabar lacquer objects. These pieces are often richly decorated and highly prized by collectors for their beauty and refinement.

Malachite: The Variety of Green

Malachite element, sold by Christie's for £2,500. Photo credits: Christie's.

Malachite, with its distinctive green hues, is used to make boxes, jewelry, and decorative objects. Its natural patterns and green veins make it an attractive material for collectors.

Moss Agate: Nature in Patterns

CHINA, 19th century, Green moss agate snuff bottle, two lion mask handles supporting rings, coral stopper. Sold by Le Floc'h Auctions for 250 euros. Photo credits: Le Floc'h enchères.

Moss agate, characterized by inclusions resembling moss, is popular for creating jewelry and small decorative objects. Its organic patterns and subtle color palette make it appealing to hardstone art enthusiasts.

The Current Market Landscape

The market for Chinese hardstones remains dynamic, attracting both domestic and international clientele. Collectors are enticed not only by the natural beauty of these materials but also by their rich history and cultural significance. Renowned global auction houses such as Sotheby's, Christie's, and Bonhams regularly feature Chinese hardstone pieces, and prices continue to rise.

For example, a pair of spinach-green jade bowls from the Qing Dynasty sold for a staggering $30 million, illustrating the immense value collectors place on these historical treasures.

The Importance of Expert Opinion

In a market as diverse and historically rich as this, the importance of expert opinion cannot be overstated. Seasoned Asian art experts like Jean Gauchet and his team at Cabinet Gauchet Art Asiatique play a central role in evaluating and valuing Chinese hardstone pieces. Their in-depth knowledge and experience enable them to provide a comprehensive and accurate assessment of an object's provenance, authenticity, and value.

Jean Gauchet, an authority in Asian art, brings a wealth of expertise to collectors seeking to navigate the complexities of the market. His profound understanding of Chinese art and culture, coupled with his extensive network of experts, ensures that collectors receive a thorough evaluation of their objects. His dedication to the preservation and appreciation of Asian art has made him a trusted figure in the industry.

Cabinet Gauchet Art Asiatique: The Trusted Source for Valuation

Cabinet Gauchet Art Asiatique, under the leadership of Jean Gauchet, offers collectors a reputable source for valuation and appraisal services. Collectors who possess Chinese hardstone items can benefit from the Cabinet's expertise in determining the authenticity, rarity, and market value of their treasures.

The Cabinet provides a range of services, including free valuations, appraisals, and estimates, allowing collectors to gain a better understanding of the potential value of their collection. By collaborating with Jean Gauchet and his team, collectors can confidently explore the market and make informed decisions about the sale of their precious pieces.

The Art of Hardstone Carving in China Across Dynasties

Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BC): Dawn of Jade Art

The Shang Dynasty witnessed the earliest use of jade in the creation of ritual objects, reflecting a deep belief in its protective qualities. Among the most sought-after pieces from this period are finely carved jade discs known as "bi" and ceremonial knives with jade handles. These objects represent China's early forays into hardstone sculpture.

Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD): Birth of Jade Burial Suits

The Han Dynasty saw the emergence of jade burial suits designed to protect the deceased in the afterlife. These suits, composed of thousands of jade pieces held together by gold or silver wire, are a testament to remarkable craftsmanship and a belief in the importance of jade in the afterlife.

Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD): The Renaissance of Hardstone Art

The Tang Dynasty saw the popularity of coral jewelry and intricately carved carnelian pieces. Carnelian items, such as finely carved snuff bottles, are prized for their intricate patterns and vibrant color.

Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD): The Advent of Jadeite

The Ming Dynasty introduced jadeite, a rarer and more precious variety of jade. Imperial jadeite sculptures from this period are considered some of the most prestigious pieces in the world of Chinese hardstone.

Qing Dynasty (1644-1912 AD): Spinach-Green Jade and Jadeite

The Qing Dynasty continued to produce exceptional hardstone works. Spinach-green jade bowls and jadeite sculptures are among the most sought-after pieces from this period. The current market reflects strong demand for these objects, with impressive sales prices.

In conclusion, the market for Chinese hardstones, including jade, jadeite, coral, carnelian, and other precious stones, continues to thrive due to the appreciation of their cultural significance, natural beauty, and rich history. Jean Gauchet and Cabinet Gauchet Art Asiatique offer collectors a trusted source to explore the value and history of their treasures, ensuring that these exquisite works of art find new homes and continue to be celebrated for generations to come.

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