Jadeite Better than Gold

Jadeite is so valuable. The Chinese know it. Western investors are only just now catching on…

Older Chinese nephrite pieces sometimes command huge figures at auction. Bonhams auction house in Hong Kong recently sold a collection of historical jade items for $23m, dating from as early as the Neolithic period. It’s a big number, but it’s not investors who are buying.

“In my experience, nobody treats Chinese archaic jade as an investment vehicle. It’s a highly specialised, highly scholarly, very narrow sector of the collectors’ market,” said Colin Sheaf, the head of Asian art at Bonhams.

Investors typically seek out something with broader appeal. Often that means jadeite jewellery. Art deco pieces are particularly prized. Last October, Sotheby’s Hong Kong sold an art deco jadeite brooch by Cartier for $930,000.

The deputy chairman of Sotheby’s Asia, Quek Chin Yeow, thinks there’s money to be made at the top end of the market, but only if you know what you’re buying. “Like all investment possibilities, you have to select the right pieces,” he said.

What to look for

Picking a winner can be tricky, though, because every piece of jade is different, and figuring out what each one is worth is an art rather than a science. There are labs that can determine the chemical makeup of the stone, and whether it’s chemically treated or if it’s an outright fake. But there’s no “jade index” that gives a price per ounce like there is for gold.

Figuring out what each one is worth is an art rather than a science
Colour is often the first thing buyers look for. Jade is almost synonymous with green, and bright emerald shades of the colour are still the most prized. But jade comes in many hues, ranging from blue to lavender to “icy” white, which has increased significantly in price in recent years. Buyers also look for size, shape, transparency, texture and craftsmanship. A jade bangle, for instance, is often a good investment because it can only be made with high-quality material, according to Wong.

And as with anything, the higher the quality, the higher the value.