Chronology : 1-1000 1720-1729 1780-1789 1790-1799 1800-1809 1830-1839 1933
Eastern Han - Nephrite Bear
2011 SOLD 8 M$ including premium by Elite Decorative
1725 The Jade Seals of the Yongzheng Emperor
2015 SOLD for HK$ 105M including premium
The 15th day of the 7th month of the third year of the reign, August 22, 1725 in our calendar, the eunuch commissions two white jade seals for the same inscription along with their boxes. Five days later a bronze prototype of the inscription is submitted to an inspection.
Both jade seals are completed in the next month, nine days apart one another. This great speed of execution is explained by the fact that the workshops had re-carved two ancient seals that the emperor himself had probably chosen in the imperial collection before issuing his order.
The smaller of the two seals, 5.5 x 5.6 cm, carved with a dragon in Yuan style, was sold for HK $ 35,4M including premium by Sotheby's on October 5, 2011.
The other seal, reworked from a Kangxi figure, is larger and more ambitious. 7.4 cm high on a square base 6.1 x 6.1 cm, it has the form of a rock on which a hornless dragon or chilong is reclining with a wide open mouth in a threatening attitude. The rock is flanked by eight other chi moving amidst clouds.
This seal is offered with its luxurious original box inlaid in ivory. It is estimated HK $ 30M for sale by Sotheby's in Hong Kong on April 7, lot 102.
Both seals discussed above are exceptional. Although Yongzheng has ordered more than two hundred seals during his short reign, only five have been made in jade.
Qianlong - An Imperial Jade Seal from the Guimet Collection
2008 SOLD 63 MHK$ including premium
This seal, along with several others from the sale of October 8 in Hong Kong, comes from a collection that the French regard as an example: that of Emile Guimet, founder of a museum which remains the largest museum of Asian Art in Paris. This group had remained in the dining room of the Guimet family.
This jade seal is estimated beyond 50 MHK$ (4.34 M€)
On 13 and 15 June I discussed here the sale at 4.7 million € excluding costs of a Kangxi seal, large for this type of object, which was only in steatite but had the advantage to be presented with its original box.
The beauty of white jade and of dragons could generate a difference of price in favour of Sotheby's lot, which would be according to the auction house the largest jade seal of Qianlong.
POST SALE COMMENT
The Imperial Chinese seals are highly desirable, and their arrivals on the market generate a sustained interest.
The white jade seal, described above, was sold 63 MHK$ including fees. I noted its dimensions, which had not yet been published when I prepared my article: 12.5 x 12.5 cm.
In the same sale another Qianlong seal of the same material, 7.5 x 7.5 cm, also from the Guimet collection, was sold 37 MHK$ fees included on a low estimate of 5 MHK$. Considering its size, this result is particularly remarkable.
Qianlong - The Third Seal
2011 UNPAID at € 12.4M including premium by Chassaing-Marambat
2012 SOLD 3.8 M€ including premium
On three times the auction house Chassaing-Marambat (previously Hervé Chassaing) has auctioned Qing seals. Their sales take place in Toulouse.
Sold € 5.5 million including premium on 14 June 2008, the first seal was outstanding for its period (Kangxi) and its dimensions. It did not return in the market to my knowledge, but I am willing to bet that it would be much more expensive today. Its success drew the other two.
Carved with a lying dragon, a Xintian Zhuren seal (a pseudonym of Qianlong after 1759) was sold € 3.3 million including premium on 17 April 2010. This one also did not reappear.
The third seal was carved of the most prestigious theme : two entwined dragons. From the Qianlong period and measuring 7.7 high with a 9.9 cm square print, it raised the bid of € 12.4 million including premium on 26 March 2011. The result was announced by the auction house as a world record.
One should not talk about world auction records. An operation is only complete when the lot is paid and delivered. This is not the case with the latter seal, which will be relisted at the same location on March 31.
It is a good opportunity to point out two exceptional prices announced by Poly from their sale in Beijing on December 6, 2011.
A small Tai Shang Huang Di cylinder seal (from the official name of Qianlong after his abdication) was sold RMB 160M including premium. The price of a Dao Guang seal, RMB 91M including premium, is also quite remarkable when considering its later date, 1831 in our calendar.
POST SALE COMMENT
The "record" is not confirmed. The seal was sold € 3.1 million before fees this year, after reaching € 12.4 million including premium one year ago.
According to the procedure of folle enchère (non-paying bidder) applicable under French law, the defaulting buyer shall pay a fine equal to the difference of the two prices, fees included. In this case involving an Asian buyer, such recovery may be difficult.
1786 The Master of the New Frontier
2010 SOLD for HK$ 122M including premium by Sotheby's
2019 SOLD for RMB 94M including premium
Belonging to the Qing dynasty of Manchu origin, the Qianlong emperor wants to unify all the Chinese ethnic groups, certainly to escape a hegemony of the Han. His territory is separated from the Mongols and Tibetans by a rebel people, the Dzungars.
The war against the Dzungars ends with a Qing victory in the 24th year of the reign matching 1759 CE. The strategy proposed by the emperor himself had been determining. The area is emptied of its original occupants by genocide, deportation and smallpox and becomes Shintian (or Xinjiang) meaning new frontier.
Qianlong is immensely proud of his civilizing achievement on behalf of the authentic Chinese people. He agrees to add to his nicknames that of master of Shintian which is partly a homophony with Xintian Shuren meaning "the ruler who believes in heaven". In that period he has a significant quantity of seals made with that name.
Time passes. The emperor is getting older. During the 49th year of the reign, courtiers seek to reinterpret the sobriquet. Qianlong complacently writes a poem in which he is astonished that his civilizing work has been so completely supported by the heavens. New Xintian Shuren seals will be regularly created over the years to honor Shintian's master.
On October 7, 2010, Sotheby's sold as lot 2103 for HK $ 122M including premium a very large seal with that mark. It will be sold by Poly in Beijing on June 5, lot 5569.
This piece 12.9 cm square and 11 cm high in greenish white jade weighs 3.5 kg. The knob consists of a pair of superbly sculpted crossed dragons. Its production including chiseling and inscription had lasted five months. It is identified in the imperial archives during the 51st year of the reign matching 1786 CE.
1790 The Self Strengthening of the Qianlong Emperor
2013 SOLD 67 M RMB yuan including premium
A jade seal of the Qianlong emperor coming for sale at Poly Auction in Hong Kong on April 4 at lot 3093 had previously been discussed in this column. The essay below is based of my 2013 discussion.
On 8 October 2008 Sotheby's sold imperial seals from the personal collection of Emile Guimet who also had been the founder of a major Asian art museum in Paris. The star lot of the sale was a Qianlong white jade seal of large size, 12.5 x 12.5 cm, that sold for HK $ 63M including premium in line with the estimate.
The surprise came at lot 2007 from a smaller Qianlong jade seal that sold for HK $ 37M including premium over a lower estimate of $ 5 MHK.
This little wonder, 7.5 x 7.5 x 5.5 cm, continued its career on the art market. On 4 June 2010, it was sold for RMB yuan 56M including premium by Poly in Beijing. It was later sold for RMB yuan 67M including premium on May 12, 2013 by China Guardian, lot 3108.
The theme with two entwined dragons symbolizing the power and cleverness of the emperor is classic but the sharpness of the jade carving is exceptional, with a special care to the facial expression and the whiskers of the dragons. The polishing of flat surfaces is perfect.
Commissioned by the emperor for the festivities of his 80th birthday in the 54th year of his reign, 1790 in our calendar, it is a Zi Qiang Bu Xi, promoting self-reliance and perseverance of the emperor in the creation of progress and by that way taking care not to fall into the indolence of old age before leaving the power.
1796 The Emperor Emeritus
2011 SOLD for RMB 160M including premium by Poly
narrated before the 2010 sale by Sotheby's (see below) and again in 2021
Qianlong retires from political life but retains an intense literary and artistic activity. Three weeks after his abdication, he issues an edict commissioning a first seal with his new designation. The prototype, 22.5 cm square, is in the collection of the Palace Museum. For this new variety, he composes a poem to be engraved on the sides of the seal.
About twenty Tai Shang Huang Di seals are made. Almost all of them are square or rectangular, symbols of the earth. A seal surmounted by two dragons, in green jade 13 cm square, was sold for HK $ 91M including premium by Sotheby's on October 5, 2016.
The only shape exception is a cylinder 4.6 cm in diameter and 5 cm high, dated Bingchen. It is in translucent white jade with russet at the top of the piece engraved at this place with a pictogram between two qilings. Qianlong named such a perfect stone a Han white jade.
The poem is carved in archaic calligraphy and it can be assumed that this jade was reused from a Han seal. Such historical reminiscence is unique among Tai Shang Huang Di seals. The circle is the symbol of the sky.
It has been sold twice by Sotheby's, for HK $ 46M including premium on October 9, 2007, lot 1301, and for HK $ 96M including premium on April 8, 2010, lot 1815 here linked on the Invaluable bidding platform. I narrated it before the 2010 sale. It was later sold for RMB 160M including premium by Poly, on December 6, 2011, lot 4982.
1796 The Emperor Supreme of the Qing
2016 SOLD for HK$ 91M including premium
He thought of his retirement which he had promised to take if his reign was to exceed 60 years. His grandfather Kangxi had reigned 61 years and this period should not be exceeded for a reason of respect. The emperor must be a model of virtue and can not change a wish or express a remorse. After a transitional year named Bingchen, the Qianlong Emperor abdicated in 1796 of our calendar.
Qianlong now becomes the Taishang Huang meaning the Emperor Supreme, a traditional title awarded in the Chinese empire to emperors who left the throne, but examples of an abdication like Qianlong's without a palace revolution are of course exceptional in Chinese history.
During his reign, Qianlong was a great lover of seals that he used to put his imperial mark on the documents and works of art that he had consulted. He had now changed his own denomination and ordered the execution of the Taishang Huangdi shi Bao seals meaning the seals of the treasure of the Emperor Supreme.
A very large seal 22.5 cm square is made for the purpose to serve as a model and will never be used. It is kept in the Palace Museum in Beijing. Copies are made in various smaller sizes using the finest jades.
The largest of the seals actually used by Taishang Huang is 13 cm square. It was carved in a boulder of green jade from Khotan on the motif of two addorsed dragons. This prestigious piece is estimated HK $ 80M for sale by Sotheby's in Hong Kong on October 5, lot 3304. It is offered with its original zitan stand but its box was lost. Please watch here below the video shared by the auction house.
We may take as references three results including premium recorded by Sotheby's. A Xintian Shuren seal of Qianlong also 13 cm square was sold for HK $ 122M on 7 October 2010. A cylindrical Bingchen seal in white jade was sold for HK $ 96M on April 8, 2010. A small Taishang Huandi seal improved with a poem explaining the abdication was sold for HK $ 64,5M on April 8, 2011.
1796 Xintian Zhuren and Taishang Huandi
2011 SOLD 64.5 MHK$ including premium
Gradually, the international auction houses are appreciating and accompanying the quality criteria of these new collectors who are blazing the market. In the discussion below, I focus specifically on white jade seals of Emperor Qianlong, which are a true barometer of the market thanks to the fact that they are frequent at auction.
Yesterday, March 26, at Toulouse, Chassaing et Marambat sold € 12.4M a Qianlong seal which had been estimated between 1 and 1.5 M €. Bloomberg, who was the first to forward this information, observes that buyers were interested in the beautiful transparency of the white jade and in the sharpness of his carving. This piece measures 10 x 10 cm at the base and 7.55 cm high.
On April 8 in Hong Kong, two Qianlong seals are for sale at Sotheby's.
One of them is a Xintian Zhuren (the monarch who believes in heaven), 10.7 x 10.7 cm at the base, decorated with a magnificent pair of addorsed dragons. It dates from the 25th year of the reign (1760), after Qianlong had successfully resisted a Muslim revolt.
Its estimate at HK $ 50M is low. This seal is very similar to another somewhat larger specimen, 13 x 13 cm, sold by them HK $ 120M including premium on October 7, 2010.
The other seal in the next sale is a Taishang Huangdi, 8.2 x 8.2 cm base, also with entwined dragons. Dated to the beginning of the Jiaqing era (1796), it embeds on its sides a poem in which the emeritus Emperor Qianlong explains his abdication.
The expected price, HK $ 30M, is probably taking into account some minor wear announced in the catalog. I previously discussed here a unique cylindrical Taishang Huangdi, smaller, sold twice, again at Sotheby's Hong Kong: HK $ 46M including premium on October 9, 2007, HK $ 96M including premium on April 8, 2010.
POST SALE COMMENT
The Xintian Zhuren, for which I thought that the estimate was too low, has not been sold.
The Taishang Huandi got a very good result: HK $ 64.5 million including premium. The inscribed imperial poem certainly helped to push its price.
early Jiaqing - pair of Jadeite Seals
2010 SOLD for HK$ 79M including premium by Sotheby's
Qing and 1933 - The Greatest Jadeite Necklace
2014 SOLD 214 MHK$ including premium
The Qing greatly encouraged the work of jade, and their seals in white or green jade are among the masterpieces of their time. The emerald green jadeite was also used in jewelry.
Despite the troubles in the China of the later Qing, the most important sets of jade beads were not mixed or separated. The main quality of a necklace is the homogeneity of its beads. Any change in color, transparency or texture is a lack of taste, and for that purpose the beads must have been carved from a single boulder.
The prestige of jade reached the Western world. A lot of 27 big jadeite beads, between 15.4 and 19.2 mm in diameter, is included in 1933 in the inventory of Cartier. It is mounted in the same year by Cartier as a necklace with a clasp in ruby and diamond, to be offered as a wedding gift to the wealthy Barbara Hutton by her father. As Christina Onassis later, Barbara Hutton had a difficult life. The husband's family kept the precious necklace.
Considered as the greatest jadeite necklace in existence, this jewel twice won the highest auction price in its category : HK $ 15.6 million in 1988 and HK $ 33M in 1994. It is estimated in excess of HK $ 100M, for sale bySotheby's in Hong Kong on April 7, lot 1847.
For comparison, a necklace of 35 jadeite beads 12.5 to 15 mm in diameter, also equipped with a clasp by Cartier, was sold for HK $ 43M including premium by Sotheby's on April 7, 2010.
POST SALE COMMENT
Pieces that are unique in their kind have no predictable price. The result, HK $ 214M including premium, rewards an extraordinary necklace.
The Imperial Green Jadeite
2020 SOLD for HK$ 63M including premium
The simplicity of the shapes requires an exceptional know-how and skill which culminated during the reign of Qianlong. In the next century the Empress Dowager Cixi was fond of them. Bead collections have often been assembled, or re-assembled, into necklaces in the 20th century, with diamond clasps.
The variance of the natural colors and the fineness of the texture make it possible to distinguish if the elements came or not from a single piece of stone. The best sets should be homogeneous with comparable dimensions of the beads.
In auction history the absolute star in this category is the Barbara Hutton necklace, sold for HK $ 214M including premium by Sotheby's on April 7, 2014. It is composed of 27 highly reflective emerald green beads from 15.40 to 19.20 mm.
The Imperial green is slightly more yellow than other emerald greens, without other secondary hues. The best gems have a similar saturation, translucency, inner luminosity and surface smoothness. It comes almost exclusively from Myanmar.
On October 7 in Hong Kong, Sotheby's sells as lot 1662 a necklace composed of 43 jadeite beads from 13.0 to 11.3 mm weighing a total of 630 carats. A gemmological report states that this jadeite may be called Imperial Green
For hundreds of years, jadeite has been a symbol of supreme status and wealth. This season’s Hong Kong Magnificent Jewels sale is presenting a spectacular line-up of jadeite pieces, and here’s a guide to explore its understated charisma. #SothebysJewels https://t.co/tPslH1fDJK— Sotheby's (@Sothebys) October 6, 2020
Jadeite at Shanghai
2013 SOLD 43 MHK$ including premium
Green is a common color of jadeite when it contains chromium. A perfect necklace must be uniform in color shade, in translucency and in texture, which requires that the elements have been extracted from a single stone. Shaping a jade bead requires great patience and high skill.
The realization of a necklace of jade beads could certainly take several years. Since no inscription is possible, such jewels can not be dated.
On 7 April 2010, Sotheby's sold HK $ 43M including premium a necklace composed of 35 large emerald green beads ranging in size from 12.5 to 15 mm.
On October 7 in Hong Kong, Sotheby's sells a set of two homogeneous necklaces with an amazing total of 254 emerald green jadeite beads. It is estimated HK$ 22M and is illustrated in third position on the blog post shared by Sotheby's.
The press release tells that the lot was so prestigious that a previous owner traded it for an entire mansion in Shanghai. This story takes place about 70 years ago, during a very difficult period of the Republic of China.
POST SALE COMMENT
This beautiful set was sold for HK$ 43M including premium, the same price as the above referred necklace that had been sold in 2010. This is a chance because the sizes cannot be compared.
For the lot sold today, the size of jade beads ranged between 3.5 and 10 mm and the length of the necklaces was 76 and 80 cm.