Chains Carved Out of a Single Piece of Jade Rock – Chinese Jade Chain Vases

The Chinese have revered and carved Jade and Nethrite for generations, and still do.  The modern 20th century carvers use all the latest machinery and technology to carve this very hard, brittle material.  But all of the antique jade carvings were lovingly made by hand and have been highly valued throughout the ages.

Personally, I far prefer the antique jade carvings (up to the first part of the 19th century) as these were always carved from a single stone, with rather basic tools, and they often took a very long time to complete.  Yet, most of these carvings have qualities that are far more beautiful than the modern ones.  They managed to carve attractive bottles and vases that are wonderfully hollowed out, sometimes through such a small opening at the top, as is the case with Snuff Bottles, it is incredible how they have been made, so that even the shoulders of the bottles are finely hollowed.      

What I also find fascinating are the amazing vases, with covers, which are connected by a chain, where everything has been carved out of just one stone!  I even know of some jade vases with covers that have a double chain attaching the lid to the vase on either side.  

There are some where the cover is separate and the double chain is used to hang the vase from an elaborate, often pierced, carved jade hanger.  

I have not found any reference on how jade chains are carved on the Internet, or anything about jade-chained vases so I decided to publish this article.  But I did find an interesting video, on how to carve chains from a single piece of wood (by searching YouTube for ‘wood carving chain’) and I presume this is how the chains would also have been carved in other materials, including jade.  

But to consider how difficult it must be to conceive of carving a beautiful well proportioned (well hollowed out) vase, plus a perfectly fitting cover, with a long chain of evenly formed links, all to be carved out of a single jade boulder is something I find quite staggering!   

Which brings me to the question of value.  For some reason, currently, Chinese jade-chained vases are not that highly valued, in monetary terms, compared with other antique jade carvings. This is because connoisseurs and antique jade collectors consider them, as nothing more than cabinet pieces, simply made for display rather than for use, and worse still they were only made for the export market!   

I too, as a collector, tend to value more the Chinese carvings that were made for personal use; such as pendants, snuff bottles, water droppers, archer’s rings and handling pieces.  But as there are such an amazing amount of high quality skills involved, in carving these chained vases, I do feel that these lovely works of art should be far more highly appreciated. Fashions do exist in the collecting world and I am sure one day, these chained vases will be highly sought after.

The author has been a very keen collector for many years in helping to create ‘The Cohen collection’.

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2 Responses to “Chains Carved Out of a Single Piece of Jade Rock – Chinese Jade Chain Vases”

  1. George Ingraham Says:

    As a lapidarry, and chinese snuff bottle collector I am both fascinated and amazed at how difficult it must be to carve jade snuff bottles.. Actually others as well.. Agates, and fossilized ( agatized ) material has to be extremely hard as well..

    This discussion has come up in the past on our snuff bottle discussion forum,834.0.html

    I wish there was a way to see inside a Chinese jade carving shop. To see the kind of equipment and tools they use.. To see them ( or even a video ) of them carving a jade bottle would be pretty cool..

    Although I primarily collect the inside painted type bottles, stone and porcelain are my next favorite.. But there is nothing like a traditionally carved nephrite jade snuff bottle.. !

  2. John Neville Cohen Says:

    Dear George, thank you for your interesting comment (nice to know someone reads me), I am sure somewhere there are pictures and descriptions of snuff bottle carving, I know that I have seen a picture (a long time ago) of a carver using a treadmill (I think it was in one of the early Hugh Moss publications, or it might have been in the book published by Henry Hitt. I too love the jade and other stone snuff bottles, particularly, the wonderfully carved picture agate bottles where the flaws, found in the stone have been used to such advantage! But apart from snuff bottles I also collect pendants (fine quality antique ones are even harder to find than fine snuff bottles) yet the same craftsmen carved both. With kindest regards, John

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