Bangle bracelets

How jade jewelry became a symbol of hope

In the fall of 2019, I happened to be in Taipei on vacation. I was wandering around the huge jade market, not expecting to buy anything, when an aunt who worked at one of the stalls stopped me. She placed a plastic glove on my hand and started putting on various bracelets in different shades of green. One, she said, suited my complexion and would bring good luck and protection for the next year. I was so convinced by her location that I let her follow me three blocks to the nearest ATM to pay. Since then, the bracelet has not left my wrist.

When I posted about the experience on Instagram, my DMs filled up with other Asian American women who were either curious about buying their own jade jewelry or showing off the pieces they had. already acquired. Their interest surprised me, mainly because I remember growing up with peers who thought jade was outdated and aging. When I was a teenager, it wasn’t really cool to wear a Buddha on the traditional red cord, or a circular Bi disc pendant. (We used to jokingly call them Lifesavers, but it’s actually a classic shape that dates back to the Neolithic era and symbolizes paradise.) Jade was what your grandmother or old aunts wore. At its extreme, wearing the stone suggested you weren’t properly assimilated – a terrifying thought for a child facing strong social pressure to adopt the customs and aesthetics of mainstream American culture. But while my friends may not have seen the value in jade during our teenage years, it is undeniably back.

Jade is traditionally revered in many Asian cultures, where it is considered more valuable than gold or diamonds. Legend has it that it protects the wearer from misfortune – if your bracelet breaks, it’s because it was absorbing bad intentions directed at you. It is not uncommon to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a high quality part.

For many immigrants, jade is one of the few links to their country of origin. “Jade is the indestructible bond between generations. [To keep it safe] you hide it in little embroidered jacquard pouches in medicine cabinets, sock drawers, safes, or even in the pantry next to the rice,” says Cynthia Leung, a New York-based journalist. Passed down from woman to woman, bracelets and pendants begin to take on the weight of history; you can easily build a collection with pieces that are centuries old. “The pendant and the bracelet that I have are family heirlooms, given by my mother or my grandmother to whom I was very close. They were passed down from their mothers and grandmothers,” she explains.

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Associating jade jewelry with an older generation once made it difficult for young women to embrace these pieces, but thankfully that attitude has changed. This is due in part to the recent wave of anti-Asian racism and resulting activism among Asian Americans. “My attitude towards traditional Asian things – my jade bracelet in particular – started to change before this recent episode of anti-Asian racism, but now I’m even more resolute. The first instinct might be to hide, out of fear for our safety, but we risk losing that part. [of our identity] always. I am determined not to let our light dim,” says New York-based fashion publicist Lisa Lu.

Emily B. Yang echoes Lu’s sentiments. “I’ve worn my jade more in the past two years. It’s a mix of turning 30 and becoming more of myself. I want to be more candid about who I am and what I stand for, which includes not being afraid to ‘appear Asian’ in a time of anti-Asian sentiment,” she says. Alongside his day job as an adjunct professor at Parsons School of Design, Yang also volunteers for Welcome to Chinatowna grassroots organization dedicated to preserving New York’s Chinatown.

“It’s something I wear proudly that announces my heritage.”

The pandemic was also a major concern for Emily Cherkassky, particularly its effects on small Asian businesses. While spending time at her childhood home in Minnesota with her family, Cherkassky decided to buy her mother a piece of jade jewelry. “I’ve always frequented the little shops in Chinatown for this stuff, so I DM-ed Jalee Jewelry for help,” she said. The process was so smooth it inspired her to start Jewelry L. Lu, a site that connects customers with small, fancy Mom-and-Pop jewelry stores in New York-area Chinatowns. “[They] have great products, but they tend to face negative stigma and a lack of foot traffic, so I wanted to change that. Sites like Mejuri make it easy for women to buy pieces, so why not do the same for them? she explained. L. Lu is named after her grandmother, Long Xian Lu. Initially, she sold 14k gold, but customers kept asking for jade, and it became a best seller.

Crystal Ung also wanted to give back to her community during the pandemic, which inspired her to found ren, a jade jewelry website that caters directly to consumers. Ren specializes in delicate Catbird-esque rings and necklaces, as well as vintage pieces that can skew modern or traditional, like bracelets, Bi discs, and Buddha pendants. “During the height of the pandemic, as the violence began, I reflected on what it meant to be Asian as well as my American identity. I felt like the best form of activism was to create something meaningful and valuable, which preserves East Asian traditions,” she said. Since Ren’s launch, Ung’s pieces have been featured in magazines and worn by Eva Chen, as well as that Gemma Chan in her British vogue spread.

With jade jewelry increasingly appearing on celebrities and influencers and becoming easier to find online, many Asian-American women have found that their anxieties about wearing the stone have eased. Delaney Wing, a consultant in Chicago, shopped at Ren after seeing Chen talk about it on her Instagram. She ended up buying a delicate lavender pendant, adding to a collection that also includes a bracelet she inherited from her grandmother and a bracelet given to her by a friend.

“Growing up, I was obsessed with Michelle Kwan, who wore a lucky charm pendant. Today, I like the way Eva Chen wears it,” she says. wear now?” I’m half Chinese and third generation, so I used to associate the stone with older women. I always assumed I wasn’t “Chinese enough” to wear it. As I have become more confident in my journey, my jade jewelry has even more meaning for me. It’s something I wear proudly that announces my heritage.

“It’s important to not only appreciate how it looks, but also to understand its deep cultural connections.”

Sites like ren and Jewelry L. Lu are a hit with Asian millennial women primarily because in the past, acquiring jade involved going through several hoops. Getting an authentic, high-quality bracelet or pendant takes some legwork. Small jewelry stores are usually owned by first-generation immigrants, which makes communication difficult unless you are fluent in the language. Some will even say that the best jade is bought in Asia, requiring a planet ticket. Unlike what you might see on Amazon, you could be spending hundreds to thousands of dollars. But now it’s as easy as clicking a button, no haggling.

As jade reaches the mainstream, it also risks losing its cultural significance. Fellow Welcome to Chinatown volunteer Yang’s Gabi Tran, who is the organization’s grants and outreach director, remarked on how social media has changed things: “The attitude is changing, especially with the rise of jade bangles on TikTok, where they are prized for its aesthetic. But it’s important to not only value its appearance as an accessory, but also to understand its deep cultural connections,” she says.

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Las Vegas-based artist Lyvian Dao has seen firsthand what happens when jade jewelry goes viral. When she posted a TikTok video Showing off his bruised hand after his mother forced a bracelet on his wrist, he racked up more than five million views. Commenters’ questions about whether it was appropriate to wear jade if you weren’t Asian prompted her to film a derivative video.

“A commenter genuinely wanted to know the difference between appropriation and appreciation, when it came to wearing a bracelet. It’s a thin line, but I needed to straighten it out,” she says. Reactions in the comments were mixed, with some accusing him of being controlling, but Dao doesn’t regret speaking up: “Anyone can wear jade. Just do the basic research and understand why it means so much to us.” .

But maybe that popularity isn’t all bad. For those of us who, during our youth, feared they would betray our weirdness, jade jewelry now feels normalized, fitting right into our Westernized lives. If anything, it is shown that we have been successful in our new homes, as jade is ultimately a symbol of financial means.

“My parents were working class, so that emblem of wealth seemed super unattainable to me, but now it’s something that’s been fun to pick up for myself as an adult,” says Jess Tran, an influencer who grew up in Sydney and now lives in Brooklyn. Finding success and wearing it proudly, isn’t that exactly what our ancestors would have wanted?

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