Local millennials, a bespoke jeweller and their love affair with the age-old jade

  • Having withstood the test of time, jade jewellery in Singapore has been seeing a second coming in the early 2000s.
  • Today, more young women are opting for jade as part of their wedding repertoire, adding a youthful spin on jade jewellery.
  • TheHomeGound Asia speaks to two local millennials and a modern jade jeweller on the allure of what was once deemed as granny’s fashion inspiration.
Jade jewellery (Photo courtesy of Gen.K Jewelry)
Jade jewellery (Photo courtesy of Gen.K Jewelry)

There must be something about jade.

In many Asian films, jade bangles are worn on the slender wrists of the older Chinese women. Smooth and cold, the pale green stone is nothing but a prop, meant to define a character’s Asian roots, her old-fashionedness, and little else. Despite its unassuming profile, the traditional jade is unlike any other. 

Confucius once extolled virtues of integrity, righteousness and humility to jade. Apparently, the effort it took to sand, grind and smoothen the irregular, rugged stone into a polished rock exemplified the qualities of self-control and discipline that leaders and thinkers during China’s Warring States Period (475 B.C. to 221 B.C.) should possess. In fact, royalties of the Han Dynasty believed jade to have vivifying properties and the followers would encase their dead rulers in customised jade suits for slow decomposition or to insure immortality. 

The allure of jade jewellery today

Jade is either of two different silicate minerals: nephrite or jadeite. It is used in some cultures, especially in Asia, as jewellery or ornaments, but mostly in its green variety, although jade comes in other colours such as white, blue, purple and yellow.  

Today, many Asian women still wear them for their purported healing and wealth properties. According to CNN Style, jade has also attracted a growing pool of affluent Western admirers, many of whom are celebrities who have worn them on the red carpet. More interestingly, a younger crowd of millennials and Gen Zs in Singapore are also opting to accessorise their daily outfits with jade.

“The meaning behind jade encompasses more than just nobility, wealth and health,” says Ms Genevie Yeo, founder of Gen.K Jewelry. Noting a resurgence of jade jewellery among younger Singaporeans, Ms Yeo highlights how young couples today would choose jade bangles as bridal gifts. “These (jade bangles) represent the natural union behind the bride and groom. Given that jade is known to be one of the toughest stones, it also represents the strength and longevity that marriage should come to symbolise.”

Genevie Yeo (left) and her sister Kayde (right) at Gen.K Jewelry’s flagship store at Capitol Singapore. (Photo courtesy of Gen.K Jewelry)

Ms Yeo, who founded her label in 2014, first got acquainted with jade when her mother gifted her and her sister Kayde identical jade rings. It was not until the early 2000, when she discovered the modernised creations by the late radio DJ Kate Reyes, that her interest in jade jewellery blossomed. Taking a leap of faith, she decided to leave her well-paying job at Apple Singapore to set up her own label, a decision she says she had “not once regretted”.

At Gen.K Jewelry, the otherwise “old-fashioned” jade jewellery receives a second coming. Together with her team of designers, Ms Yeo transforms the traditional jade into an arsenal of modernised jade offerings. She does so by adding a variety of embellishments onto the unassuming green stone. 

The classic jade bangle receives a gorgeous facelift with metallic ornaments and semi-precious gemstones. (Photo courtesy of Gen.K Jewelry)

At times, these embellishments take the form of sophisticated metallic coils, in silver or rose gold, on traditional bangles. At other times, they come in colourful semi-precious gemstones that adorn the edges of a jadeite ring. Nevertheless, the result always ends up becoming an elegant, eye-catching piece that is both experimental and contemporary, befitting the tastes of the younger generation who push the boundaries of jewellery design.

“We believe that such a modern look will de-stigmatised the perception of jade being a matronly-looking precious stone, as well as appeal to both our younger and more mature customers,” Ms Yeo says. 

On her creative muse, she adds: “A decade back, there weren’t a lot of jewellery designers who gave jade a fresh, contemporary look. That’s what inspired me.” 

From mothers to daughters

Treasured for their beauty and the aforementioned emblematic profiles, jade jewellery makes reputable heirlooms. Just like Ms Yeo and her sister were given jade jewellery by their mother, it is a common ritual for mothers to hand down their jade jewellery to the daughters or even daughters-in-law. In this regard, such keepsake jewellery boasts immense sentimental value. 

For 25-year-old Teo Jia Hui, her first piece of jade jewellery was a small pendant with a tiny diamond latched in the middle. “I was shopping with my mother while preparing for my wedding. She asked me to choose a few pieces of jewellery and that small jade piece caught my eye,” says Ms Teo. She was 22 then. “The jade pendant is minimalist and modern in the sense that it had a small diamond on it. That makes it suitable for everyday wear and it does not look too old fashioned.”

Ms Teo, who is a mother of one, adds: “I have always loved jade pieces and even got one for my grandmother when I was younger. Also, I have heard about how jade actually protects the wearer.”

For 2D animator and illustrator who goes by the single name Christal, her first piece of jade jewellery was a bangle bequeathed by her mother when she was only 10. The jade bangle, according to the 25-year-old, was cool to the touch, boasts a whitish-green hue. It was loose on her left wrist when she first wore it, but it did not take her long to “grow into the jade”.   

A small collection of jade jewellery owned by Christal’s household. (Photo courtesy of Christal)

Unlike Ms Teo who enjoys a youthful spin on the rock, Christal prefers the traditional style. “Personally, I love the look of traditional jade jewellery. They remind me of my grandmothers. Adding all these gems and jewels seem to take the beauty away,” she says. 

For Christal’s family and extended family in Indonesia, both the men and women have their own jade jewellery. The women would wear bangles and rings while the men opt to carry jade pendants. 

“In my family we believe that jade protects the wearer and that it can help absorb bad luck,” says Christal, an Indonesian Chinese based in Singapore. “There is a saying in Indonesia that when a jade breaks, it indicates that you have been spared from a mishap.” 

Perhaps dubious to some, there are several spiritual or health benefits in wearing jade. According to Chinese tradition,  jade bangles should be worn on the left, where it is closer to the heart, purifying incoming vital energy or “Qi”. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners would argue that the cooling properties of jade stabilise meridians and calm the body. And if the jade should appear cloudy and dull after some time, it indicates that the stone has absorbed the wearer’s negativity, even though it can change colour when worn.   

Some of the modernised and youthful-looking jade bangles at Gen.K Jewelry. (Photo courtesy of Gen.K Jewelry)

Over the years, Christal has broken four pieces of jade jewellery, all of which were due to unfortunate accidents — from serious falls to car accidents. Recounting the time when a shelf filled with wine bottles fell on her and her sister, she says: “We came out (of it) fine. In the other accidents, I had a few bruises and some broken bones. The doctors said it could have been worse.” 

“After the accidents, my mother would always ask me to thank the jade pieces,” she adds.

Christal has had her fair share of ridicule when she wore her jade jewellery out. She confesses that there have been critics who thought she was either too young to wear jade or that jade jewellery does not suit her aesthetic. She has also heard naysayers lament jade for being old-fashioned. “To each his own, I guess. Jade has been a part of my family and my culture. It may be old-fashioned for some, but to me it’s family.”

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