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Jade 101 — jade pieces

Masterful Jade Artistry: The History of Chinese Jade Carving Techniques

Masterful Jade Artistry: The History of Chinese Jade Carving Techniques

Because jade is one of the hardest gemstones, especially nephrite jade, carved jade is the result of various techniques being used to bypass its sturdiness. Nephrite jade and jadeite jade are strong due to their  very dense crystalline structure, which can be read more about here.  

One method used to quarry jade was to heat it up with fire then splash the jade with cold water. The sudden change in temperature would cause a reaction which would make the jade crack. However, such a method would also destroy the jade, hence making finding high quality jade along rivers the best method of extraction.

Wasters, which were Neolithic jade workshops, hold evidence of evolving jade carving techniques from chipping jade to using precise tools. Due to the high toughness of jade, abrasion with a tougher material has always been a method of choice to mold the jade pieces. At first, quartz was used to create jade designs but later on during the Song Dynasty, “red sand” became much more popular. Other abrasives that were developed to carve jade include almandine garnet, corundum, carborundum, and diamond.

In the Hongshang region, string, awl, hollow drill, and a slow rotating disk were tools used to cut and carve jade pieces. String was used to slice, shape, and cut slits into jade. Awls and hollow drills punctured small and big holes into the jade respectively, depending how large the jade piece was and the purpose of the jade design. The slow rotating disk was used for line cutting and to prepare drilling the jade. Metal tools were introduced during the late Zhou Period, making it plausible that copper tools were used before the use of iron.


The four step process of creating a jade statue by hand. This light green jade statue is a bodhisattva buddha jade, which shows a person in robes sitting down. From left to right, a raw jade, the rough jade with a draft of the design on top, the bodhisattva is carved into the jade, the final design is shiny and polished for display.


Eventually after the 1960s, carving jade became much more efficient thanks to the availability of more powerful jade cutting tools and stronger abrasives. Now, the  three main jade processes for modern works for jadeite and nephrite are manual carvings, reliance on Computer Numerical Control (CNC), and 3D Scanning / Auto Carving. 


The manual process can be summarized in four steps which are, examination of the material, designing, carving, and polishing. The image of the bodhisattva buddha jade above displays this carving process. The goal is to waste as little jade as possible due to how difficult it is to work with in the first place because of its hardness. Leftover, smaller jade are potentially used for other things such as beads for jade jewelry. The design of each jade piece is usually influenced by the color and transparency.

The CNC engraving machine has become one of the most popular methods of carving jade in China. The advantage of this machine is that it can make intricate jade designs between a day or a week compared to years using traditional methods. However, it is limited to the shape of the jade and performs well on jade that has been prepared as a slate. Much more complicated 3D designs require manual carving to come into play along with CNC methods. Many other artistic flairs such as jade chain carving cannot be achieved with the CNC machine.

3D scanning and auto carving jade is a popular method to create replicated jade items. For example, one could let a 3D scanning device scan an object such as a one of a kind jade golden toad. The scan can be taken to the CNC machine which will then be given a program to be able to replicate the golden toad. Due to the unique color variations and patterns for each piece of jade, it will not look exactly the same, but the shape will match exactly to the original.

At Dahlia, we specialize mostly in jadeite jade. All of our carved jade pendants and jade pieces are made of authentic Grade A jade. If our natural jade is not to your liking, free returns and exchanges are guaranteed!

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Read on to the next post to learn more about other jade qualities.