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Jade: My Home

Lyle Sopel -

Dear Collector Friend,


The subject of jade is often on my mind. I thought it would be symbiotic to write about my affinity to jade as we approach the month of February and the celebration of the Chinese New Year of the Ram.

I was not born with a jade spoon in my mouth, contrary to popular belief. And although my family has often referred to me over the years as Mr. National Geographic, I have never lived in the jungles of Africa or South America.

The first time I came in contact with anything to do with jade was when Canadian jade was first discovered in the northern region of British Columbia. At that time, little was known about this illustrious stone. I saw an ad in the newspaper that was seeking artisans for a jade studio in Vancouver. It was a fortuitous moment for me, as I had just completed art school. When I came across the word “jade”, I felt I had somehow arrived home- it seemed that familiar to me. As I look back in retrospect, I can see what a pivotal moment that was for me.

I jumped right in before I knew any of the facts about working with jade. I had no idea that this stone was harder than steel or, as I described it in my early days, “harder than hell”. I didn’t realize that to even begin working with jade, I would need to apply engineering processes as the studio equipment was primitive and often in need of repair. Innovative techniques had to be applied, including ordering diamond powders from China. As the saying goes… “If only I had known”.

jade sculpture gemstone

As an artist, my practice has required me to take on the various roles of student, teacher, and master. With a recent opportunity to study and examine the works of Faberge in the private vault at the Hermitage Museum, I inhabited the role of the student. I felt honoured to be privy to witnessing these royal objects of imperial art. This experience afforded me with what feels like a set of “new eyes” in which I see a more enriched spectrum of colour.

Considering I fell in love with jade at first sight, I never stopped to take note of how much dedication would be involved. It has been a roaring love affair ever since.

Before my involvement with jade, I never realized that I had a propensity towards gambling. With the purchase of my first boulder, I wondered if I could rest assured that I had indeed made the right investment. When later I cut into the stone, I was happy to see that I had chosen well. Over time I’ve come to realize that I have been fortunate in this respect. There is a strong intuitive knowledge that seems to kicks in, allowing me to assess the highest value stone without even seeing its core.

This ability to identify higher value stones has garnered me a reputation within the rough jade purchasing industry. Every year when I go to the quarry to purchase my boulders, I am often followed by an entourage of the usual suspects- big buyers of gigantic boulders from the East. I have worked out a code to share with whomever happens to be accompanying me on these purchasing trips, usually my son, Kurtis. Using the code when I spot a favourite specimen keeps my selection process undetectable.

In my early years I would never have dreamed that investing in jade could be such a highly skilled process. Yet, in spite of all of the challenges, the allure for this ancient auspicious stone lives on within my soul.

jade sculpture gemstone

I will soon be venturing off to purchase many different and rare gemstone specimens. Last year I spotted a favourite small jade boulder that I had seen in previous years. When I queried about its value I felt it did not match its quality. I looked into the stone with a light to see how rich the colour was within the matrix of the material. It looked to be of quite a high value, but knowing that one should never jump at a first viewing, I moved onto other jade sources. When I viewed similar jade from another location I made a comparison and found the quality of the first boulder to be inferior. I also found out that the first boulder had been not sold for a couple of years. I wasn’t surprised. Though the colour was enticing, the block of stone in its entirety appeared to be too much of a risk. Recalling this experience allows me to offer you a small vignette of the decision making process that is involved in purchasing rough materials.

Arizona 2014

This year I will be seeking out optically clear crystals and coloured gems that are blush or salmon coloured, as I had mentioned in the previous newsletter. Gemstones that display iridescent surfaces are my favourite, and I am always keen to spot the most rare stones in the richest and most luscious colours I can find. Sometimes I come across this kind of beauty the very first day of an exhibition. In a few of these instances in the past I had decided to look at everything else before I could feel sure enough to proceed with a purchase, only to return and discover that everything had been sold out.

This is the unpredictable nature of gemstone selection. It often sounds quite romantic, but in actuality it is highly stressful. There is always the possibility of buying the wrong stone or purchasing the right gems and having them never arrive on time. Imagine trying to contact the “miner” who is communicating from a laptop up in a tree in Madagascar only to receive the casual response of “What shipment”? True story.

This being said, the prospect of acquiring some new materials unfolds with a building excitement. This year after travels to Europe I feel especially inspired and I am full of curiosity to see what Gaia- the Earth- has naturally fabricated on this incredible planet this year.


Art, Nature, and Beauty Always,


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