Jadeite is one of the hardest natural substances known to man: At around 6.5-7 hardness on the mohs scale, it is harder than steel. Obviously, this makes it difficult and time consuming to shape and means that jade carving can only be done by hand.
Mr. Chen is one of the traditional jade carving experts who creates the exquisite shapes at the heart of all of Ping Ping's jade jewellery. Although Mr. Chen now owns his own jade carving factory in China and does not need to get his hands dirty these days, he started out as a jade carver and still maintains a small workshop on the rooftop above his Taipei apartment to 'keep his hand in'.
Mr. Chen kindly agreed to give us a demonstration of jadeite carving in action. He buys his jade in raw boulders which are carefully examined to determine the best way to cut them. This will depend on the internal composition of the boulder as far as it can be determined – often by cutting or grinding a 'window' in the side.
Once cut, the stone will often be 'sliced' to allow the finest pieces to be made into bangles. The cutting is done using a diamond cutting wheel.
The rough piece is then further shaped using a diamond grinding wheel. When the shape is basically complete, intricate detailing is carved using a hand-held rotary tool and various bits and drills.
The finished piece is then tumble-polished for several weeks, before having a coating of hot wax applied to accentuate its lustre.
This may sound simple but a single complex piece can take an expert carver several weeks to finish to the highest standards. And that's using modern power tools – imagine how long it took when everything was done by hand!
A piece of raw jadeite is sliced to reveal the inside.
Cutting the rough jade blank with a diamond saw.
Amazingly, Mr. Chen still has all of his fingers!
Further shaping with a diamond-coated grinding wheel.
Mr. Chen is a highly skilled jade carving artist.
The finished carving is tumble polished for several
weeks before being coated in wax.