Natural Materials

Natural Materials

The wide variety and beauty of the natural materials used in vintage and antique jewellery is staggering. It seems jewellery designers never cease in their inventiveness. Here is a list which I believe is comprehensive or almost comprehensive (there is bound to be something I have left out).

I have excluded metal as that seems to deserve it’s own separate list.

 

Amber

Animal parts (ie Rabbit Foot)

Bog Oak

Bone

Butterflies and insects

Cinnabar

Coral

Flower and Plants

Gems & Gemstones

Hair

Horn

Ivory

Jade

Jet

Marcasite

Pearl

Sea Shell

Stone (Mosaics)

Tortoise Shell

Tooth

Tusk

Wood

 

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Jade

” An ancient Chinese legend tells us that even within the earth jade and gold are worlds apart, that they repel each other, since gold is of the material realm and jade is of the spirit.” Gump, p.15-16

There are two different minerals which are called Jade; these are Nephrite and Jadeite.  Jadeite is the rarer and more sought after mineral, particularly when it is translucent.  Nephrite comes in a variety of greens, yellow, reds, black and soapy white.  Jadeite has more color variations and can be blue, lavender, black, mauve, pink, white, grey and green in colour. Both Nephrite and Jadeite are remarkably hard and tough materials.  Emerald green (also called ‘Imperial Jade’) is considered by many in the West to be the most desirable color; in the East, white or fine yellow with a delicate pink undertone are generally the most sought after colors.

Earrings

France, c. 1825
Earrings, gold, jade, chrysoprases and rubies.
V&A Museum

Jade can be referred to by its type according to the level of enhancement it has had.   These types are:

  • Type A – refers to jade has not been treated in any way apart from waxing.
  • Type B treatment involves using chemical bleaches and/or acids and impregnating jade with a clear polymer resin. This results in more transparency and colour. Infrared spectroscopy is the most accurate test for the detection of polymer in jade.
  • Type C jade has been artificially stained or dyed. Can be a dull brown and translucency is usually lost.
  • B+C jade  has been both impregnated and stained.
  • Type D jade refers to a composite stone such as a doublet comprising a jade top with a plastic backing.

There are a variety of tests to verify the authenticity of jade, as well as the type and the grade.  Evaluating jade is a fine art that many specialists devote themselves to so I’m not going to attempt to go into this too deeply; I have put links at the bottom if you would like to look further into this.  As a rule of thumb though, the more translucent and strong and even the color is, the higher the value of the jade is likely to be.  One quick test for real jade is to hold it up to the light: real jade will have fine, tendril like inclusions.  Of course, the very highest quality jade of all is like glass and won’t have any visible inclusions at all.

AN ART DECO JADE AND DIAMOND RING

An Art Deco Jade and Diamond Ring.
Christie’s Sale 3026

BRACELET ART DECO ONYX ET JADE, PAR JEAN FOUQUET

BRACELET ART DECO ONYX ET JADE, PAR JEAN FOUQUET
Christie’s Sale 3506

Another rule of thumb, when evaluating a simple jade bangle, is to note whether or not is is rounded or flat edged; if it is flat edged, it is unlikely to be from prior to 1950, if it is rounded, it is more likely to be old, although not necessarily so.

Flat-edged jade bangle, probably contemporary.

Antique Chinese Jadeite Jade Bangle Bracelet 19th Cent

Rounded jadeite jade bangle from the 19th Century. Rounded bangles are not necessarily antique.
Image from ‘Trocadero – The Incurable Collector’.

Jadeite mostly comes from: Myanmar (Burma), Canada, China, Guatemala, Japan, Kazakhstan, New Zealand and Russia. Nephrite mostly comes from: Alaska, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Russia, Taiwan.  ‘Russian jade’ is the trade name given to a type of spinach-green nephrite

Although jade is traditionally a material associated with China and other Asian countries, European jewelry of the 19th and early 20th century also made use of jade.  The Victorians often liked to couple it with chrysoprases or cannetille work, whilst the Art Deco era designers often carved it and combined it with other stones and materials such as coral and amethysts to incorporate in floral and ‘Giardinetti’ brooches.  Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts era designers also liked to use jade as the rich, vibrant colors appealed to the sensibilities of the time.  The Art Deco era also used jade in Asian flavored designs and would often combine jade with rich enamel work.  Here are some examples below:

Earrings

New York, c. 1920-1930
Gold, enamel and jade earrings
Tiffany
V&A Museum

Necklace

France, c. 1825
Necklace, gold, jade, chrysoprases and rubies
V&A Museum

Brooch

France, c. 1925.
Brooch, platinum, diamonds, carved coral and nephrite jade, black onyx and enamel
V&A Museum

Brooch

Scotland, early 20th century
Brooch, silver, partly gilded, with abalone, turquoise, jade and citrine
Mary Thew
V&A Museum

Sources / further reading:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jade

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nephrite

http://www.langantiques.com/university/index.php/Jade

http://www.langantiques.com/university/index.php/Jadeite

http://www.langantiques.com/university/index.php/Nephrite

http://www.wikihow.com/Tell-if-Jade-Is-Real

http://www.gemselect.com/gem-info/jade/jade-info.php