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Myanmar jade market

We took a short flight in a small plane from Yangon, met with Wyn our new guide and were soon on the road to Mandalay. A surprisingly good road, more like a UK dual carriageway, but as she explained Mandalay is the centre of the commercial world for Myanmar with a 300 mile direct access into China, India and Thailand so the government has invested in the transport infrastructure for the city. Agricultural produce is exported and agricultural technology is imported, but that didn’t prevent us from stopping every ten minutes or so to let the working oxen and buffaloes cross the road from one field to another. Part of that commercial world is the secretive jade trade worth a staggering $31Billion to Myanmar, although where that wealth ends up is any ones guess. We visited Mandalay’s jade market in the middle of the city where the locals meet the international traders, many from China. Like any other trading market it starts early, is fast and frenetic and full of characters, but the jade market is huge, over 40,000 buyers and sellers attending every morning. The market is actually a production line for the manufacture of jade jewellery, mainly bangles that bring good health and good luck to the wearer, their price depends on the quality of the stone but can vary from as little as $5 to as much as $200,000. For a bangle? The jade is mined a hundred miles from Mandalay and brought to the market in its raw form, boulders of it, some as large as a small car. Helene was invited into an open fronted factory by some young inquisitive men to demonstrate how they cut the huge rocks. I say inquisitive because we are somewhat of a novelty in Mandalay, particularly Helene. We are occasionally stopped by locals to join them in a selfie, or by parents to explain who we are to their young children pointing at us. Wyn explained that some, especially those from the country, will never have seen a woman with blonde hair before. As Helene watched the cutting and polishing process a buyer on behalf of a large Chinese importer invited me to help inspect the cut rocks he was purchasing. How much help I could be I’m not sure but I was given a small powerful torch to hold against the smooth sleek surface to examine the clarity of the rich green stone. The buyer held his mobile next to the rock giving a live video feed back to China and asked for my appraisal.‘Is the green a consistent colour across the stone?’ he asked. ‘Yes, it’s all dark green.’ ‘What about any flaws? Can you see any lines or cracks in the jade?’ he asked, holding the camera closer to my torch. ‘And, what about the depth of colour?’ This was all getting a bit technical, the seller was eager to move my torch to the best parts of the stone, which I now noticed had red rings lightly drawn over its surface. These indicated how many bangles could be cut from it, about twenty from this particular loaf sized stone. ‘It looks clear to me,’ I said, ‘and the colour is the same across the stone, quite deep.’ He translated my comments to his Chinese importer on the mobile, answered a few questions and shook the hand of the seller. It appeared the deal was done. Wads of notes wrapped in bands appeared and the stone was wrapped in some grease proof paper that made it look even more like a loaf of bread. Buyer and seller looked pleased with the transaction and I looked fairly bemused by it all, I do hope the importer is satisfied with my purchase. ‘I would like a piece of jade,’ said Helene. ‘Well, we couldn’t be in a better place,’ I said, ‘And, as luck would have it you are now with an experienced buyer, I know what to look for. Let’s start with colour.’ ‘As dark as possible,’ she said. ‘Oh! Are you sure?’ asked Wyn, looking rather concerned. ‘Don’t you worry,’ I said, ‘we’ll find it from one of these small traders and I’ll drive a hard bargain.’ We had now arrived at the end of the production line, this part of the market was full of one-man-band sellers behind portable tables displaying their wares of beautifully cut and highly polished bangles, brooches and beads. A small man wearing a long dusty longyi and a huge bright green emerald ring set in silver, was shuffling jade stones around an old white tray balanced on a plastic table that may have once been in his garden. In amongst them was a deep dark green stone about the size of a finger nail, perfect. ‘Leave this to me Helene,’ I said, borrowing his pencil torch to inspect the quality of the jade. ‘Clarity and consistency of colour good,’ I reported. ‘No blemishes or flaws. Depth of colour good. Yes, I think this will do. How much is this one?’ I asked. ‘$10,000’ he said. Wyn looked expectantly at me, Helene just laughed. David Moore is Author of ‘Turning Left Around the World’. Published by Mirador and available from Amazon, it is an entertaining account of David and his wife’s travel adventures – often intriguing, frequently funny and occasionally tragic.  If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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  1. I design and make jewellery as a hobby. I often make things for my friends who come along to my studio at the bottom of the garden, take a look at my gems, stones and chains etc. and talk through what they want. A visit to the Jade Market would certainly freshen up my stock.I’d love to get there as it would give me a lot more options.

    1. That’s so cool! I’ve always been fascinated by jewellery and have far too much of the stuff, but nothing fancy. I think for jewellery makers and designers, the jade market would be a haven!

    2. You would certainly have plenty of choice there Maggie, with much more to see in Mandalay…
      Myanmar is a wonderful country full of colourful people, I hope you can arrange a trip

  2. Lovely piece of writing. Very evocative. Maybe the next book could be on Great Markets of the World. Imagine the potential variety.

    1. Thank you Julie, so pleased you enjoyed it…
      Love the idea of a book on Great Markets Around the World

  3. Yikes, $31Billion? That’s a heck of a profitable market. It really does make you wonder where’re the money goes though. I don’t imagine these markets are exactly well regulated either. A day’s trade is certainly very full on with so many buyers and sellers, it’s hard to imagine that day in, day out. I’ve seen jade online vary a lot in price too but you never know what you’re really getting. I can see why that man was attempting a video feed to get an appraisal before purchasing! You have expensive taste, picking the unblemished one that sells for a mere $10,000. This is why I hate buying at markets, I like price tags as I always feel awkward being told the price and sheepishly having to walk away muttering my apologies that my budget doesn’t stretch that far!

    1. Hi Wendy,
      That was exactly the feeling I had – walking away with my tail between my legs…
      But with $10,000 for a stone the size of my nail it’s perhaps no wonder the market is estimated at $31 Billion
      Although nobody really knows for sure, as you say it’s completely unregulated and in such a poor country it’s difficult to understand where the wealth goes – we can but guess

    2. the money goes to china most of it at last and all the major markets are behind closed doors for the rich and well connected (who become rich)

  4. Thank you, very interesting. I design and produce jewellery under the name Via Emilia. I was lucky enough to recently obtain some very beautiful Jade which we are now working with. It is an amazing gem.To read this was enlightening a very well written piece.

    1. I grind up rocks and minerals into pigment and make many of my own art paints. I have been doing this for 15 years. I would be very interested in getting some Jade from Myanmar in rough form, small pieces are just fine because I am going to crush them up into pigment anyway. Vibrant color is what I look for. I am wondering how someone gets Jade out of Myanmar and back here into USA? Or, if I can connect with a Jade dealer over in Myanmar and have some shipped to me?

  5. I have an 83 klo piece of jade from Cowell south Australia was wondering how I find a buyer

  6. I am interested. Please advise the dimension of your piece of jade to enable whether it is suitable for my intended use.

    1. Hi,
      I have a considerable amount of Jadeite in truth. all type A some imperial some apple/kingfisher a little lavender and a lot of what I thought was moss in the snow but may (at the lad under scrutiny at the moment) may turn out to be a new species (it had Jadeite like properties but is not testing as pure jadeite) the lab is determining whether this is a new species or type of jadeite at the moment and I hope to have a definitive answer in around two weeks as the testing has and is extensive. Most of my jadeite I must say is cut but I do have the availability of some rough pieces.

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