Fact & Fiction: Suzhou Jade

“Fact & Fiction”

For 5000 years, Imperial China used the word jade as something precious and beautiful.  Today, more jade comes from Burma than China, but the Chinese are considered the master carvers.  However, jade (think the green kind), became expensive and that engendered more affordable and clever uses of the word jade.

Such is today’s necklace made of ”Soochow” jade.  It is not jade but serpentine named after the city of Suzhou, 60 miles NW of Shanghai.  I’ve bought it for years in earthy shades of green, brown, tan and cream.  But I always put it in the serpentine drawer, placed next to the drawer holding the shimmering green real jade.  I always thought of serpentine as jade’s first cousin.  And after all the research I did for this blog, I shall continue to hold that opinion because serpentine is nice on its own and doesn’t require the false tag of jade to be attractive.

Actually, naming it after Suzhou was a big compliment to serpentine when you consider the city is called the Venice of China.  There are images of gondoliers pushing their boats through the narrow waterways of the Yangtze River Delta.  But no research revealed serpentine was ever mined in Suzhou.  Pure Marketing BS!!!

Fact and fiction aside, this two-strand necklace is made from two different strands and three sizes of brown-tone serpentine beads…note the earrings contain the three sizes.  Try to find two beads of the exact same tone and markings; nearly impossible.  For me that is the charm of serpentine–it’s mixable and matchable.  The centerpiece is made from an archer’s ring [worn to protect the finger against the pullback of the arrow.  When I first touched one , asked what is this, and hearing the answer, I bought a dozen of the nicest ones.  Two decades ago, I thought they were so cool.  Still do.]

My drawer of carved serpentine revealed this nice carved arrowhead and I used gold plated wire to attach it to the archer’s ring.  Brass clasp.  19″ necklace with 3″dangle.  Earrings included.  $90 plus $7 shipping.

A Max Moment


Just two years ago, I started reporting Max was growing attached to his “blankie”, a 50″ x 60″ throw I put on the sofa to protect it from him.  He loved it, snuggled into it, licked it, soft-jawed it, ran with it.  So cute.  Then came the destruction:  chewing, tearing, and swallowing it.

He stills runs with it except it is a 20′ long trailing fleece mess.

HELP!  I need advice from doggie Moms and kiddie Moms:  how do I get rid of it????

A Gau Box and a Tibetan Bead Adventure

“Tibetan Gau Box”

 

In 1993-4, Don and I lived in Hong Kong.  I discovered ethnic beads at the fabulous bazaars located in alleys and byways and became enamored of the giant orange and yellow beads that were described as those worn by Tibetan nomads.  I asked Don to take me to Tibet on one of his business trips to Beijing.  Ha!  Impossible since it is located on a 5000’ high plateau in distant southwest China.

So I convinced him to have an adventure travel vacation in Tibet.  Be informed adventure travel translates as difficult travel, as in one-star or no-star accommodations, toilets that range from pots under the bed to blackened porcelain with no seat, mattresses that feel like plywood, walking a lot, crossing the Himalayan mountains with a view of Everest in a jitney without any shock absorbers…a trip to Katmandu, Nepal, that took 24 hours including the overnight accommodations described above.

The pleasures of adventure travel are close-ups of the native population, interesting food, cultural immersion, different religions.  And beads.  No bead shops, just go to the village square and the traders find you.  Whew.  The first lesson is to push away the crowds, establish some control, and patiently look, point, and bargain.  What wild memories!

These Gau boxes were my most unusual finds!  Today’s necklace features an excellent specimen.  I paid $100 for it and it is $490 on Etsy as I looked for one today.  As you know, I don’t mark up the original price I paid.  No need to, since you, my dear readers, are looking for an interesting necklace, not a collector’s item for a display case.

Gau (sometimes Gao) boxes are antiques today, less than 30 years after our first visit.  We returned again in the late 90’s and the change was sad—China had infiltrated Han Chinese into Tibet in a massive relocation program to dilute Tibetan culture.  As a result, many Tibetans have crossed the mountains into Nepal where they are respected in their enclaves

These boxes contain Buddhist paper prayers and relics folded into the box, and worn around the neck, near one’s heart, by Tibetan nomads or travelers.  It also is an amulet to ward off negative energy and attract blessings (just like those fluttering strings of flags placed in the mountains).  Like any antique, they have patina, the fancy word for wear marks and nicks over time.

This necklace is 24” from clasp to bottom of box which is 2.5” diameter and 5/8” thick.   The clasp is hammered pewter.  The necklace weighs 7.7 ounces.  The set is $195.

The beads are dyed coral shell pearls.  These pearls are made from the lining of oyster shells, ground, shaped, dyed, and coated with a lustrous shine.  They do not lose color or shine due to sweat or perfume.  I also like them because they come in large sizes for a reasonable price.

At the beginning and end of the necklace and in the earrings are other Tibetan beads with silver decorative endcaps.  The beads in those endcaps and the center of the Gao Box are the same orange beads I first saw in Hong Kong…seems they come in all sizes. 

These are two other Gau Boxes I bought on that trip.  They are shaped like shrines which is another use of the Gau Box.  The large one is a wonderful speciman with many cultural icons carved in the silver and a wonderful polychromed deity in the window.

The small one is so old the silver plate wore off to its copper base.

 

 

 

 

 

A Max Moment

I dare not disappoint Max’s followers.  Here he is trying to dismember his stuffed  toy, but his smart Mom bought him a leather toy and it takes a really long time for him to destroy it.  Approaching 28 months.

_________

Postscript:  I imagine there are prayers and relics still in these boxes but I am afraid of ruining them if I attempt to open/close the boxes, so I don’t.  I just imagine.  I encourage readers to use their imagination also.

Whimsey Bird

A touch of whimsy always makes my day.

This lampwork glass bird is one of many whimsical beads Stephanie Sersich, Topsham, Maine, creates.  Sersich today is 43 years old and introduced herself to the bead world at age 25 with a public lecture and an article in the legendary “Lapidary Journal.”   Two big influences contributing to her success are her creative Mom and a major in metalsmithing and painting.  As she says, “I learned engineering and color which led me to making my own glass beads.”

She then developed her own “Spiny Knotting” method to allow her to bind many of her colorful beads into a single bracelet or necklace.  Check them out on her website sssbeads.com.

I have often wondered why I preferred the hunt for fabulous beads like Stephanie’s instead of making them.  It has a lot to do with the fact that my youthful focus was on getting an English degree, living in Paris and Lisbon, and being a corporate HR professional.  I didn’t buy my first bead until I was 50 and living in Hong Kong, entertaining myself while my husband organized his company’s South Asian footprint.  But I loved the hunt!  From the Hong Kong Jade Market to Beijing’s outdoor flea markets, Shanghai’s treasure-filled antique shops, from small entrepreneurial silver shops in Bali, to the giant pieces of turquoise I found in Tibet, and the amazing beads on small Indonesian islands of Sumba, Komodo, and Flores.  For two years, I never thought of making my own beads.  Just acquiring them.

And I can safely say that is true today, 25 years later.  I was determined, however, to put my own creative stamp on each necklace.  To balance color and texture, to be bold, chunky and fearless, but above all to never stop searching for the odd, eccentric, remarkable bead.  And to do that, I expanded my search to fulfill the true definition of a bead:  something with a hole in it which can be strung.

Stephanie’s bird and fiber dangle is 3.5″ and the pink Czech glass bead necklace is 24″.  Featured in the necklace are molded glass pre-war German semi-circle beads plus glass flowers at the end of the necklace and in the earrings.  $139.

 

FEBRUARY 1: New Jade

“Noble Space”

Last year’s challenge is a gift that keeps on giving.  As I made my way through the year, drawer by drawer, I chose to present the best that drawer had to offer, create a boffo necklace and blog it.  The gift is that many drawers offered several choices of fabulous beads which I put aside for future consideration.

Well, the future is now.  I have several trays full of plastic bags each containing a necklace wanting to be designed.  The first to jump out is New Jade with a magnificent carved jade centerpiece.

I’ve collected new jade beads for years, liking their milky green color with their cloudy opacity.  Guess what?  New jade is the trade name for semi-translucent serpentine!  It’s OK that it is not jade; I have always considered serpentine as a cousin of jade.

The real story here is the centerpiece:  it is real jade, variegated from white to mountain green, carved with the usual flourishes of talented carvers plus the open work circle which is not often seen—perhaps due to the difficulties posed by carving one of the hardest stones.

Many jade centerpieces in my stash are round and I now know why:  they were girdle ornaments in ancient China.  Read girdle as belt, perhaps similar to a Japanese obi.  In the Zhou dynasty (1050—256 AD), seven carved jade pieces hung down from the belts of men and women.  The wearers enjoyed the tinkling of the ornaments as they walked, reminding them of music, claiming it put them in a joyful disposition.

I enjoyed reading that in royal Zhou courts, only the king could wear white jade; princes wore green the color of mountains; prefects wore a water blue stone; and mere officials were assigned to prehnite which is pale green in color.  Men and women of all classes wore them, choosing emblems of their life’s work (which type of stone was not noted).

The necklace has three strands of hand cut new jade with earrings to match.  Both are finished in sterling silver.  It is 18.5” long.  The centerpiece is 2” diameter and .25” thick.  It is not heavy, weighing three ounces.  $99 the set.

I do not mean to imply the centerpiece is ancient.  To the best of my knowledge, it is contemporary.

Most of my research came from a book I purchased in Hong Kong in 1994.  Originally published in 1912, republished in 1974, my unabridged edition of Jade:  Its History and Symbolism in China by Berthold Laufer was republished in 1989.

 

 

Drawer 51: Reverse Painting & Bumpy Beads

“Meditation on Nature”

My Chinese Apothecary Chest:   in 1994, it arrived via container to California from Hong Kong, where I discovered beading during my husband’s ex-pat assignment. Serves as the repository for my beads.  Handcrafted.  It has 52 Drawers, mostly sorted by color.

2017 Challenge: Create a Necklace a Week, using only the Beads from one Drawer at a time. Voila!  52 Necklaces!

Week 51/Drawer 51: December 20, 2017: “Meditation on Nature”

In the middle “double wide” drawer, I found two oddities: four glass beads painted on the inside that I found in a flea market-type setting in Beijing and my bag full of what I call bumpy beads, due to their surface texture, but undoubtedly vintage Bohemian pressed glass.

As I emptied out the bumpy beads, the bright green ones wanted to be near the painted glass so they could pop the green in the landscape scenes. Finding some matte vintage Lucite beads that didn’t overpower the painted beads was easy—Drawer 6 offered a great selection.  I chose three large plus a strand of medium faceted beads to intersperse with the green glass.

Reverse painting originated in Venice in the 13th century, resurfaced as a method of portrait painting in the 19th century, and enchanted Americans as fancy lampshades in 1910.  But it was the Chinese who elevated reverse painting to fine art using very delicate brushes.

This necklace features two beads with a typical landscape of a lake, a boat, a mountain, and a verdant foreground with a tree by the lake. The other two feature an elegant crane in flight and, on the other side, a resting crane.  Imagine packing all that inside a bead that is only ¾” in diameter!

Cranes are a frequent symbol in the Chinese culture since they are a sign of longevity.  A common expression is “heavenly crane” which is a reference to wisdom, the second role of the crane.

I could not find any images of my bumpy bead collection, so my name sticks. I am confident they are the pressed glass Bohemian-style beads made in post-war Germany.  See Drawer 30 for the story (7-26-17).

This necklace is 22.5” long. The clasp is a matte glass odd-shaped circle with a silver toggle.  I made earrings to match.  Since I’ve had the painted beads for so long, I used their original low price and not the average price of $12 to $15 each I saw on Etsy.  Therefore, the set is $79.

Stay tuned…only one more Wednesday in 2017. I plan to end this challenge with panache!!!

 

Drawer 49: Aventurine, a semi-precious stone

“Seductive Lure”

My Chinese Apothecary Chest:   in 1994, it arrived via container to California from Hong Kong, where I discovered beading during my husband’s ex-pat assignment. Serves as the repository for my beads.  Handcrafted.  It has 52 Drawers, mostly sorted by color.

2017 Challenge: Create a Necklace a Week, using only the Beads from one Drawer at a time. Voila!  52 Necklaces!

Week 49/Drawer 49: December 6, 2017: “Seductive Lure”

It is fitting that the Aventurine drawer is next to the Jade drawer because I used to have a lot of green aventurine which can be close to jade in color, and was my reason for making those drawers neighbors, but there are many other aventurine colors—blue, yellow, orange, and a brownish called red—which I have collected over the years and now outnumber the green.

This necklace features red aventurine which I paired with a bug-eyed koi fish. At first, I chose white jade to fill in the Aventurine and it wasn’t working.  A closer look at the fish showed me its underside was the palest of lavenders.  I really had to suspend belief in color theory to go with Mother Nature’s combo of lavender and red aventurine.  The results charmed me.

Then my research told me why the colors worked: Aventurine is a form of quartz.  The koi fish is agate which is one of the most common materials used in the art of hardstone carving and agate is also a quartz.  If you are confused, it’s easier to say  aventurine and agate have the same parents.  Additionally, they both channel abundance in the world of crystal properties.

The Chinese are very fond of Koi or goldfish and keep them in bowls in their homes or in ponds in the temple gardens. The Chinese words “jin yu” meaning goldfish are phonetically identical with the two words meaning “gold in abundance”, thereby making the goldfish/koi symbol a traditional wedding gift.

The necklace measures 18” long plus 2.5” for the goldfish.  I just found two more Red Aventurine beads and can make earrings to match.  $69 plus $15 if earrings desired.

 

Guess what else I discovered about quartz? It accounts for 12% of the Earth’s crust.

I found my koi/goldfish cultural interpretations in the same book I referred to last week : A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols by Wolfram Eberhard, first published in 1983.

Drawer 48: Jade

“Momentum” 

My Chinese Apothecary Chest:   in 1994, it arrived via container to California from Hong Kong, where I discovered beading during my husband’s ex-pat assignment. Serves as the repository for my beads.  Handcrafted.  It has 52 Drawers, mostly sorted by color.

2017 Challenge: Create a Necklace a Week, using only the Beads from one Drawer at a time. Voila!  52 Necklaces!

Week 48/Drawer 48: November 29, 2017: “Momentum”

To me, Jade is Hong Kong. Worn by many citizens, seen in shop windows, handled at the Jade Market:  it is the heart and soul of Hong Kong.  I became very attracted to it.

When I discovered the Jade Market, I walked there from our Kowloon apartment, frequently slipping into the Yue Hwa Chinese Products Emporium, a large department store on Nathan Road, to find curios and objets for my growing Asian collectibles.

Approaching the Jade Market were countless small jewelry shops full of Cantonese-speaking shoppers, men in the street hawking big chunks of jade from their small pick-up trucks, and a few Westerners like me with anticipation glistening in our eyes. The Market is really a tent, permanently erected, and certainly the size of a football field.  I walked around until something I saw drew me in.  The vendor rushed around with a low stool, a tray and a smile.  I could sit for an hour, choosing the beads I deemed suitable for a necklace.

Don and I lived in Hong Kong for 18 months in 1993-4 and the memory of the Jade Market is still fresh. Unfortunately, what material I have left from that era isn’t enough to make a necklace.

So here is this week’s necklace: Suzhou jade, also called new jade, in a dark to light variation with two carved beads on each side  separating the two shades.  There were no leftover beads, so wear your silver earrings.  A nicely carved turtle, 2” x 2.25”, is the centerpiece.  Sterling silver clasp.

The tortoise is an enigmatic creature for the Chinese, “concealing the secrets of heaven and earth”: they see its shell as the vaulted  heaven and its underside as the flat disc of earth.  It also symbolizes steadfastness.

The necklace measures 18.5” long plus 2.25” for the tortoise.

 

While still in Hong Kong, I started using my Jade Market finds. I found a helpful book to explain the meanings of carvings such as the tortoise above: A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols by Wolfram Eberhard, first published in 1983.

Drawer 46: Silver: Thai Hill Tribes

 

“The Singular Spirit”

Week 46/Drawer 46: November 15, 2017: “The Singular Spirit”

For years I have bought “hill tribe” silver and only knew it was a recognizable style of workmanship made in Northern Thailand. Now I know so much I fear I shall bore you with my focus on the six tribes who make pieces like this fish centerpiece.  Read on.  Some names will be familiar to you.

First of all, they work in a special silver which, at 97%, is in between sterling (92.5% silver content) and fine silver (100% silver). High silver content produces a softer metal which tarnishes less.

Second, there are six tribes who, over the past 200 years, emigrated mostly from China and Tibet through thick forests and mountainous terrain to the “Golden Triangle” where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet.

Third, the tribes retain their traditions in their clothing, their abundance of silver adornment, and their methods of making beads and jewelry. Their tools and processes are simple: silver ingots are flattened into sheets by pounding with a hammer.  Then they pound the sheets into a mold and something like this fish emerges.  They detail the piece—see fish scales—in their own signature style.

The most populous tribe at 300,000 is the Karen, originally from Myanmar. They live in stilt houses with their animals beneath.  They are expert elephant handlers (think logging and tourism); very friendly; and called the “long necks” due to the silver necklaces worn from collarbone to chin.

Next largest are the Hmong, many of whom were welcomed as refugees in the USA after the Vietnamese war. They came from the icy regions of Tibet and Mongolia; settled in Chiang Mai, a large and lovely city; and are identified by their traditional clothing of pleated skirts and black baggy pants, both with lots of embroidery.  Besides being silversmiths, they are dry rice farmers and may cultivate opium poppies.  They are very independent, preferring to live above 3000 feet.

The last tribe I’ll describe is the Mien (also called Yao) whose women are often photographed for their elaborate costumes and headpieces. They are considered the aristocrats of the region and have been making silver jewelry the longest. They are the only hill tribe with a written language and they use silver as their currency. They originate from Southern China, bringing their medieval religion, Taoism, with them, but many have converted to Christianity or Buddhism.

The remaining three are called Akha, Lahu and Lisu. All proud silversmiths.

The Drawer 46 necklace is full of trade beads, all with varying patina (read bumps and bruises from years of being traded), sterling silver and Naga shells (how I would love to tell you about the Naga tribe in the land-locked Himalayas who trade with shells and adorn themselves with shells, but no time for that story!) The fish centerpiece is a Karen Hill Tribe silver creation.

The necklace is 20“ long and the fish is 2.5“long.  Wear it with your silver earrings.  $99.

Trade beads are described in Drawers 12, 32 and 43.

 

Drawer 34: Cinnabar

“Illusionist”

My Chinese Apothecary Chest:   in 1994, it arrived via container to California from Hong Kong, where I discovered beading during my husband’s ex-pat assignment.   Serves as the repository for my beads.  Handcrafted.  It has 52 Drawers, mostly sorted by color.

2017 Challenge: Create a Necklace a Week, using only the Beads from one Drawer at a time. Voila!  52 Necklaces!

Week 34/Drawer 34: August 23, 2017: “Illusionist”

Cinnabar is an intriguing name. Sometimes I call it “Chinese Red”, especially if I am referring to furniture or antique wood items.  It is a terrific color for bead jewelry since it seems to flatter all skin tones.  I buy cinnabar whenever I see it.  The more typical beads are carved, but my favorites are these large smooth and very light beads from Drawer 34.

Cinnabar has been used in China since the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) when its name evolved from “red cinnamon”. Cinnabar is found in every mineral deposit that contains mercury.  The Chinese avoided the toxic effects of mercury by coating it with lacquer, thereby creating their famous lacquerware.  Today the toxic pigment is replaced with a resin-based polymer.  All the famous Renaissance painters  loved their scarlet pigment called vermillion made possible by mercury; today’s artists use the polymer version in their oils or acrylics.

In this necklace, I separated the cinnabar beads with some Kris rings I found in Bali.  Needless to say, they have an interesting history also:  they are one of three components in the dagger found in Bali (also Thailand and a few other places); between the wood or silver hilt and the iconic wavy blade sits the Kris ring, historically red rubies, but glass and brass in my version.

The oversize brass hook-and-eye clasp suits the large cinnabar beads which are 1” in diameter…but let me emphasize they are very light in weight. 20” long. Small cinnabar earrings included (or wear your own gold earrings).  $95.

Drawer 32: Cobalt Blue

“Fact from Legends”

My Chinese Apothecary Chest:   in 1994, it arrived via container to California from Hong Kong, where I discovered beading during my husband’s ex-pat assignment.   Serves as the repository for my beads.  Handcrafted.  It has 52 Drawers, mostly sorted by color.

2017 Challenge: Create a Necklace a Week, using only the Beads from one Drawer at a time. Voila!  52 Necklaces!

Week 32/Drawer 32: August 9, 2017: “Fact from Legends”

This centerpiece is part of a 1940’s lampshade from Shanghai. And it is amazing that it exists at all!  Shall I tell you why?

China was ruled by Mao Zedong from 1949, when he declared the People’s Republic of China was under one-party rule, until his death in 1976. The last ten years of his regime is known as The Cultural Revolution which aimed to purge capitalists and traditionalists from Chinese society in order to impose his own communist ideology. The purged were humiliated publicly; property was seized; youth were made to go to the countryside to learn from peasants; historical artifacts, such as Confucius’ birthplace, were destroyed; cultural and religious sites were ransacked; the only movies, books and theatre allowed were propaganda.  Mao said he killed 1.5 million people; the true number is alleged to be up to 6 million.

When we lived in Hong Kong from 1993-4, I read many books on the Cultural Revolution, fascinated by the stories told. I also searched the antique shops for cultural artifacts—and found the pieces of the lampshade.  The antiquarian told me how wealthy families managed to hide their treasures, mostly by burying them in the ground.  I also purchased a few finely-embroidered patches mandarins wore on their robes in the Imperial Court which ended in 1912.

As for the necklace, the beads are mostly cobalt Czech glass. The 14 cylinder beads are pre-war Bohemia pressed glass (see Drawer 30 for that history); the four small circles, plus the earrings, are glass beads made in Holland starting in the 1800’s for trade in Africa.  The lampshade centerpiece is enamel on copper and is trimmed in cobalt blue.  The clasp is glass with a sterling silver hook I fashioned.

The two-strand necklace measures 23.5”plus 2.5” for the centerpiece and dangles. The earrings are 1.5” long.  The set is $119.

This is a necklace I made some time ago.  It features freshwater pearls, garnet and seed beads.  I removed the tassels from the top piece and added a seed bead tassel.

There are four long single tassels hanging from the top piece and three pearl and garnet  single tassels from the bottom, between the long original silk tassels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are three of the four enamel-on-copper pieces from a 1940 Shanghai chandelier that I still have for future projects.