Amazing artists carved tiny pieces of jade into snuff bottles, perfume bottles, and fantastical animals, and unlike much art, jade carvings are not significantly affected by time or normal environmental conditions such as light and humidity. In order to keep these precious antiques from damage and to display them properly, some guidelines should be followed.
The main environmental issue is dust in the tiny carved crevices of the jade. While jade is remarkably resilient, it can be fractured by bumps and falls. Even a small knock or fall can cause a piece of jade to develop an internal fracture that expands over time. So protecting jade pieces from dust and from being knocked over suggests storage and display that provide some protection. Some jade is displayed in hand-built boxes with cushioning, such as wall mounted boxes. Other display options include small glass display boxes with built framing, in which the jade is attached to the frame.
If safely stored and displayed, jade can stay remarkably clean, with just an occasional dusting with a natural fibre makeup brush. If carved jade has dust or dirt accumulating in the carving, though, it should be cleaned.
Always protect the piece from accidental knocks and bumps while cleaning. One way to do this is to keep the piece cradled in the palm of the hand, and immerse it in a bowl of warm water with a small amount of dish soap and ammonia. Use your fingers to gently clean the surface, and then a soft infant’s toothbrush to clean into the carved areas. Rinse with cool, clear water, protecting the piece in the palm of your hand, then let the jade air dry for several hours.
Using the same type of small, soft toothbrush, gather a bit of beeswax on the surface of the tiny toothbrush and use this to buff the wax onto the surface of the jade. The final buffing can be a clean, soft cloth like a cotton washcloth.
Much beauty is found in the nature of the stone when sunlight is directly refracted on the surface. Unlike much art, jade is not harmed by sunlight, though it should be protected from excessive heat. Display that allows light, such as mirrors or clear glass, is good option, but the time with sunlight should be limited to no more than a couple of hours a day. A better option might be lighting that allows the viewer to admire the translucency of the stone, and the fine carving, without the heat from sunlight. Glass display boxes, such as shadow boxes built with integral cushioning, are popular for collections of tiny pieces, such as carved snuff bottles.
For more information about our restoration and conservation of antique carved jade, please contact us.