Jade: Fragile, but Full of Protection

Today the New York Times notes that, reflecting the growing importance of the Chinese market, several high-end brands are now incorporating jade in watch dials, and even fashioning it into watch cases.

“If you show a good quality diamond side by side with a good quality jade, the Chinese consumer will definitely pay more attention to the jade,” Carson Chan, Bonhams’ managing director in Asia, said in an interview with the NYT last month.

The stone, a staple material in fine jewelry, has found little favor with watchmakers, however, because of its fragility. “It is not easy to cut or shape jade evenly into a thin disc, nor is it easy to make small bits such as the indexes without any blemishes,” Mr. Chan said.

“The wastage rate can be quite high,” he added. The problem of brittleness applies both to the rare, hard jadeite and to the softer, more common nephrite jade, he noted.

Still, reflecting the growing importance of the Chinese market, several designer brands are incorporating jade in watch dials and fashioning it into watch cases.

In 2010, Dior introduced a collection of quartz-movement ladies’ watches with dials in colorful stones, including chrysoprase, turquoise, serpentine and jade, as part of its La Mini D de Dior line.

This summer, Harry Winston, Azimuth and The Chinese Timekeeper have latched on to the trend.

Harry Winston recently introduced a collection of limited-edition, Chinese-themed watches to celebrate the opening of its first Shanghai boutique. One of them, the Midnight Limited Edition Shanghai ladies wristwatch, displays the hours and minutes on dials adorned with motifs found in the architecture of traditional “Shikumen” houses in Shanghai that have stone gateways. In the 39-millimeter white-gold version, the geometric decoration, in onyx and tiny brilliant-cut diamonds, is set into a jade dial.

The Imperial Jade Grand Baccarat watch from Azimuth, a watchmaker in Singapore, features a jade dial and a case paved with four carats of diamonds. The watch comes with a baccarat game function activated by a button in the crown.

Christopher Long, a co-founder of Azimuth, said that using jadeite created a double problem for the watchmaker: “First you have to find good quality jade that is of suitable size to make a dial, and then the challenge is to make it thin enough to transform it into a dial.

“Typically, a watch dial is between 0.4 millimeters to 0.8 millimeters thick,” he added. “Most jade will crack at such thickness and if you crack a piece of imperial jade the damage is in five figures.”

Still, the choice of rare, deep-green imperial jade “reflects our passion to make unique watches and hard-to-come-by examples that the collector can feel proud to acquire,” Mr. Long said.

If the fragility of jade makes it challenging to work the stone finely enough for a dial, using it for a case might seem to challenge all the stone’s powers of good luck and protection. Just think what one unlucky knock could do.

If your jade does take a knock, if if it needs an updated valuation, at JVC Valuers gemmologist and jewellery valuer Bei Kong is our resident Chinese jade specialist. Chinese jade can be very difficult for valuers, so at JVC Valuers we consider ourselves lucky to be able to utilize Bei’s knowledge of this important cultural and historical stone.

For more see the New York Times – Fragile, But Full of Protection.