As foreign luxuries become more affordable, many Chinese shoppers are turning back to traditional baubles and amusements. Natural stones and precious shells are becoming harder and harder to acquire, increasing their collectible value and making them a stronger symbol of prestige than the latest luxury handbag. Many are traded online or at traditional street markets.
Collectible walnuts are one of the few traditional luxuries that appeal to both sexes.
Unlike their edible peers, collectible walnuts have deeply veined, hard shells that produce a clear sound when clacked or squeezed. Possession of a fine pair is considered a symbol of status, as the nuts were a favorite amusement of Qing dynasty nobles.
The most prized walnuts come from wild trees in northern China and are said to resemble lion’s heads (shizitou), hearts (jixin) or officer hats (guanmao).
Lion’s head nuts are the most common in the market. The shells look like a lion’s face, with wide, drooping edges, a sharp but blunt top and a tight, square bottom. An average pair commonly costs between 500 and 2,000 yuan: a perfect pair can cost much, much more.
Heart-shaped walnuts are native to Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area. They have rough veins and are much harder than other kinds of collectible walnuts. They typically cost less than lion’s head pairs, starting from 200 hundred yuan and growing more expensive with their size.
Officer’s hat walnuts have a big and thin edge. They are wider than they are high when viewed from the front and tend to have an irregular surface and veins.
The number of wild trees producing these nuts has declined in recent years, driving up the price. A perfect pair can cost 10,000 yuan.
Collectible walnuts are said to have a medicinal value. The bumpy edges and irregular shape make them a tool for massaging acupoints in the palms. Squeezing and rolling a pair of walnuts is believed to retard aging and prevent heart disease.
Beijing has many markets that deal in rare walnuts, but experience is essential if you want to avoid being cheated.
A collector surnamed Zhang said each pair of walnuts has to be judged on its hardness, size, shape and color. A single, well-shaped walnut with a deep orange hue is not valuable unless it has a match. The closer the match, the more valuable the pair, he said.
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Jade has a longer history of value than any other stone or mineral.
Humans first started collecting jade during the Stone Age, even before they developed a fascination with gold and silver.
The art of carving reached its zenith during the Qing Dynasty, when jade articles were fashioned to furnish and decorate rooms.
As large stones became harder to find, people began to focus on smaller jade pieces such as hair clasps and accessories. Today, the most popular pieces are cut for use as pendants or bracelets.
Jade is typically classified by its hardness rather than its color. The famous Hetian jade is representative of the soft group while Feicui is the best known hard jade.
Hetian jade comes from Hetian, Xinjiang, and is found in the colors of white, cyan, black and yellow.
The most common Hetian jade is white, and it is prized for its moist and pure color, smooth touch and creamy appearance. Some white Hetian jade can be transparent, but that is not considered a marker of quality.
A good piece of Hetian jade should be of high purity, moist and white. Quality is determined by viewing the stone through a light. A good piece should possess a fine grain and be free of black or white inclusions.
With the amount of natural Hetian jade rapidly decreasing, a single small white bracelet costs at least 1,000 yuan. Other small pieces can cost hundreds yuan or more according to the size.
Feucui jade is primarily found in Myanmar. The name comes from a mythical bird said to have blue, red, green and brown feathers. Today the term is better associated with colorful jades.
The most popular color of Feicui is green and it is divided into ice and water categories. Ice Feicui is transparent while water Feicui is green and opaque.
Feicui jade is usually carved into rings, bracelets or pendants. It costs more than Hetian jade, with high-quality water Feicui bracelets starting from 10,000 yuan.
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