I’ve never really thought much about jade. Perhaps it’s because in New York (where I currently reside) there are thousands of jade bracelets for sale on almost every street corner for around $5. That, and I’m not really a bracelet girl.
But I was schooled hard in Mandalay, Myanmar, where I hit the world-famous jade market. Deals for the finest jade have been haggled there for hundreds of years.
This thing could be worth $3 million. Or $2. You just never know. Photo: Andrew Rothschild.
Large, hulking rocks in the market sell for hundreds and thousands of dollars. Why? Because inside is jade … and if it’s the right color, you can strike it rich.
“It’s like the ultimate gamble,” I told my guide Aul. “You buy a rock for $50, and it could be worth millions … or nothing.”
“Exactly,” he said, smiling. On the inside, he said, the stone “needs to be translucent and preferably green.”
I’m now officially a jade inspector. Photo: Andrew Rothschild.
He then told me a story about a local girl. She had come from a very poor family, so she became a nanny for a Chinese mine owner in the north. The family had a dog, and one day local boys threw rocks at the dog while it was in the street. She picked up one of the rocks and put it in her pocket. Six months later, she left the mine owner’s employ, and when she returned home, she found the rock. A neighbor who had worked in the mines suggested that she get it looked at.
“It turns out it was imperial jade,” Aul said. “And the girl is now a millionaire."
What? Don’t mind me with my $300,000 bracelet… I’m just chilling… Photo: Andrew Rothschild.
In the market, stones are brought down from the jade mountains in the north. There they are cut, polished, and ultimately haggled over.
More than 5,000 people, at any given time throughout the day, will cram into the tiny space. On the day I went, it was a balmy 101 degrees with 90 percent humidity.
"I think I’m dying,” I told Aul.
Aul was not dying and laughed as I drowned in the sea of people.
Stones the size of a fingernail were selling for $5,000, and I mused, “It’s worth more than diamonds, hey?”
“Nobody cares about diamonds in Myanmar or China,” Aul said. “Here it’s all about jade.”
Sadly, I did not get a discount. Photo: Andrew Rothschild.
Later, I went to check out the finished product at OK Jewels, where bracelets went for $300,000, and somewhere in a vault was a ring worth millions. As for rings, the prices rivaled any at Cartier.
“You break it, you buy it,” they warned.
I backed away slowly.
* I should note - as with most industries that involve mining - the actual mining of jade is a dirty, dangerous business. Made especially so by the abundance of opium in the area. This article is not about that. It is about the actual jade market.
Thank you to Jacada Travel for arranging the most amazing trip ever.