03 Feb 2016
We are regularly asked what the historical Māori traditions are around the gifting of greenstone necklace designs, and what Māori believe today. Sam who works for us at our Rotorua store is from Ngati Rangiwewehi, Te Awara. She told us:
"In Māori culture greenstone necklaces and artefacts were crafted into powerful traditional symbols, and gifted to the powerful, spiritual tribesmen. Māori spiritual leaders handed down this greenstone for generations, and leading by example the practice of gifting became widespread. Certain pieces of greenstone were actually recognized as having their own spirits, which chose their wearer, so carving or taking one for yourself was extremely bad luck as it would anger the spirit or guardian of the jade."
Today, however, it is increasingly common to purchase a piece for yourself. We live in a globalised world where the walls surrounding traditions are more permeable, so many international customers are motivated by personal beliefs which are removed from Māori custom here in New Zealand, and that's ok. Consider what's important to you; this will determine the course of action you should take when buying a greenstone necklace.
The Chinese have a carving tradition more than 8000 years old, and a set of beliefs around purchasing jade equally as strong as those of the Māori custom. We asked our employee Ling who is from the Canton province in China what she believed. She told us:
"For us, a culture that has carved greenstone necklaces for over 8000 years, buying jade for yourself is encouraged for personal protection. It is thought to bring good luck. According to the Chinese creation myth, after man was created he wandered the earth, helpless and vulnerable to attacks from wild beasts. The storm god took pity on him and forged a rainbow into greenstone axes and tossed them to the earth for man to discover and protect himself with. Over time greenstone was thought to absorb bad chi, protecting the wearer, just as the axes protected man in the creation myth."
Different jade cultures have different beliefs, so consider them all and be sure to combine what you personally value when purchasing a greenstone carving. There are many things to consider, but there is no 'wrong' way forward.
Many customers ask me what I believe as a carver and I tell them superstition or belief play no part in my carving or purchasing decision. Just like buying something crafted from gold, or silver, I make a decision primarily on what resonates with me, or what I like the look of. I look for high translucence, interesting design, strong lines and lastly, powerful symbolism. The pieces I'm most amazed by tick all these boxes in that order. There is no prescriptive way to purchase jade, simply consider all the variables and you will find your way forward.
Really consider who the recipient of the carving will be because it can help you choose an appropriate design. Is the necklace for a loved one? If yes then a classic twist necklace that symbolizes your connection would be a good choice. Is the carving for a strong willed male in the family? If yes then choosing a toki design is a great starting point as they symbolize determination and strength. Is it for yourself? What do you value? Familiarise yourself with the meanings behind each design before exploring what we have to offer. You may not know it yet, but symbolism could help you make a decision.
The more light that can pass through the greenstone necklace design when held under a light, the higher quality it is. Pay special attention to its edge and see if it's glowing. If no light is passing through it then it could be a lower quality piece of jade, but that’s ok because a carvings value is determined by more than one factor. No matter its gemological value, if it resonates with you in any way, it has value.
There are two exceptions to this rule. If the piece of jade is Australian black jade, no light is going to pass through it because it is black. In this case, surface imperfections like small black spots will indicate its quality. The higher quality the piece of jade the less of these black spots it will have.
In New Zealand, 'flower jade' is the most valued because it is exclusive to New Zealand. 'Flower Jade' has beautiful contrasting white and yellow patterns scattered throughout its flesh. Sometimes 'flower jade' can seem to lack translucence because the yellow and white inclusions don't allow light to filter through its translucent flesh. Rest assured, all the 'flower jade' we carve is beautiful and of a high quality because low quality pieces break when being carved.
Our greenstone necklaces either carry a polished or matte finish. As a rule of thumb, polished pieces will be slightly richer in colour and reflective, whereas matte carvings will have a 'softer' appearance to them. There is no structural difference between carvings of each finish. Whether a piece is polished or not is simply an artistic decision made by the artist. Be sure to check each carvings 'features' for information on the carvings finish if you can't tell from its photos. We feel it important to tell you each photo on the website is of the actual carving you will receive, so simply choose a carving 'finish' you like, it's a personal choice.
I look at the ‘lines’ of the carving. I let my eye follow the outer-edges of the design to see if there are any lumps or scratches. I do the same with the inner edges of the design. If nothing jumps out, no scratches are seen, and there are no visible low (soft) spots, then I'm happy that the carving has been executed to a high level of quality. We have a great 'zoom' feature on our website where you can closely inspect our carvings which we recommend you take advantage of. We're confident our carvings are executed to the highest level.
Considering all of this information, we want to conclude by saying that you should select a greenstone necklace that you look at and say, ‘wow, I love that.' It should speak to you and what you value, from a piece of jade that you love. Simple.