What Is South Red Agate In Chinese Jewelry?

What Is South Red Agate In Chinese Jewelry?

Chinese jewelry is renowned worldwide for its exquisite craftsmanship and unique use of gemstones. One of the most cherished gemstones in traditional Chinese jewelry is "South Red Agate" or "Nan Hong Yu" (南红玉). South Red Agate holds a significant cultural and historical value in Chinese society, making it a sought-after gemstone in jewelry design.



The History of South Red Agate


South Red Agate has a long history of application in Chinese culture. The Yunnan Museum houses ancient South Red Agate ornaments dating back to the Dian Kingdom period, while the Beijing Palace Museum boasts the exquisite Qing Dynasty South Red Agate Phoenix-headed Cup, a valuable piece of historical and artistic significance and designated as a national first-level cultural relic. From these collections, it is evident that South Red Agate has been highly valued throughout various dynasties and periods and is regarded as a precious and rare material.


These museum pieces demonstrate that South Red Agate, as a rare and precious gemstone, has been cherished by rulers of various eras, especially reaching its peak popularity during the Qing Dynasty. With the discovery of high-quality South Red Agate mines in the Liangshan area of Sichuan, collectible-grade South Red Agate works have once again captured the attention of collectors, sparking a renewed interest in South Red Agate collection.


The earliest known South Red Beads from ancient Dian Kingdom were flat and round multi-faceted beads. In fact, this pumpkin-shaped design can be traced back to ancient Egypt, and its history in China can be dated back to at least the Warring States period. This shape was also common in Ming and Qing Dynasty glass beads. The timespan covers more than 2,000 years.


The rest of the history is well-known to every South Red Agate enthusiast. South Red Agate emerged as a substitute for deep-sea red coral in the Tibetan regions. Since the red coral used in these regions was the so-called "inverted branch coral," found only in the Japan and Taiwan straits, its trade was relatively difficult, and the precious nature of coral material meant that it was considered a luxury item for high-ranking Tibetans. However, the majority of Tibetans also desired a red symbol to carry with them, leading to the mass production of South Red Agate products, becoming a personal accessory for many followers. This situation continued until the late Qing period when the exhaustion of South Red Agate mines, as we typically believe, brought an end to the production of South Red Beads.


In conclusion, the history of South Red Agate in Chinese culture is a journey of appreciation and reverence for this precious gemstone. Its beauty and symbolism have captivated rulers and commoners alike, making it a cherished material for jewelry and accessories throughout Chinese history. From ancient times to the present, South Red Agate continues to be treasured for its unique allure and cultural significance, leaving an indelible mark on Chinese heritage and artistry.


Origin of South Red Agate


South Red Agate is named after its place of origin, and the ancient South Red Agate specifically comes from Yunnan. Today, South Red Agate can be found in circulation in various places, such as Beijing, Jiangsu, and Fujian. South Red Agate has also been referred to as "red jade" in the past.


The most typical and representative region for South Red Agate is Yunnan, with its prominent source being the Agate Mountain in Baoshan City of the province. According to the records of the famous traveler Xu Xiake, "On the steep cliffs and overturned rattan trees, when the cliffs are chiseled, South Red Agate is found embedded in them. They are moon-white with a touch of red, not very large, only about the size of a fist, which is the vine of the South Red Agate. If you go deeper, you can find places where gourds are formed, as big as a liter, round like a ball, and hanging in the middle without sticking to the stone. There is water nurturing them inside, and their crystals are clear and compact, different from ordinary vines. This is the top-quality South Red Agate, which cannot be easily encountered. The ones usually found in the market are all obtained by chiseling the vine."


The key characteristic of South Red Agate is the combination of its moon-white color with a touch of red, and it is usually not very large, just about the size of a fist, which is the defining feature of this gem.


Another prominent location for South Red Agate is Meigu County in Liangshan Prefecture, Sichuan. Meigu Agate has become a sought-after object for stone enthusiasts, attracting collectors from distant cities like Shanghai, Beijing, and Shenzhen, as well as nearby places like Chengdu, Xichang, and surrounding counties. Stone enthusiasts gather in Meigu, eager to discuss purchases. Some stone collectors, fearing conflicts with local collectors, choose to conduct their acquisitions in nearby cities like Xichang and Zhaojue County, engaging in a prolonged battle. The Liangshan Agate is a newly discovered source of South Red Agate, and Meigu Agate has become a sought-after object for stone enthusiasts, representing unique items for collection and preservation.



Origin and Characteristics


South Red Agate is a type of chalcedony, a form of microcrystalline quartz, and is known for its stunning red and white coloration. It is primarily found in southern China, particularly in the regions of Guangxi and Guangdong. The gemstone's vibrant red hue, combined with delicate white veins, creates a captivating and dynamic pattern that symbolizes good fortune and prosperity in Chinese culture.


The allure of South Red Agate lies not only in its captivating appearance but also in its rarity. The gemstone is highly prized for its scarcity, making it a coveted material for fine jewelry pieces. Due to its limited supply and high demand, South Red Agate is often considered a luxury gemstone, adorning the most intricate and prized Chinese jewelry pieces.


Types of South Red Agate


South Red Agate raw materials vary in texture and mineral state due to different geological environments, resulting in different appearances. Based on the natural shape of the South Red Agate raw materials, they are generally classified as follows: Water Agate South Red, Mountain Agate South Red, and Volcanic Agate South Red. Additionally, based on color, South Red Agate can be further divided into the following types: Brocade Red, Rose Red, Cinnabar Red, Red and White, and Gauze Red.


Brocade Red

Among South Red Agates, Brocade Red is the most precious. The best quality is a vibrant red, characterized by its rich, fine, and uniform appearance. The color mainly consists of bright red and deep red tones, including the well-known persimmon red.

Rose Red

Rose Red leans more towards purple in color, presenting an overall purplish-red appearance, resembling a blooming rose. Historically, it has been relatively rare and is found in certain quantities in Liangshan South Red mines, mainly in the Wuxi and Yixing mine areas. At times, its price may decline due to a depletion of high-quality purplish-red materials.


Cinnabar Red

In Cinnabar Red, the main red color is noticeably formed by the gathering of cinnabar points. Some pieces may even display patterns resembling flames, with certain ones having a captivating and unique beauty.


Red and White

Red and white colors coexist in this type, such as the common red and white silk material. Those with distinct red and white separation are rare, but through skillful design and carving, they can achieve unexpected artistic effects.


Gauze Red

Gauze Red is a colorful South Red material with red as the dominant color and textures similar to gauze patterns, hence its name.


Cherry Red

Mainly produced in Lianxiang, Sichuan, Union material belongs to translucent jade, with very fine crystals. The Union material comes from Lianhe Township, Meigu County, Liangshan. The quality of the material there varies significantly, with the top-quality being Cherry Red, while the lower-quality ones are sold at a lower price. Union material is characterized by sufficient water head and transparency. Due to high prices in Baoshan, many people have the idea of using Union material as a substitute for Baoshan material.


Black Red

Black Red is also a relatively rare South Red raw material, originating from Union in Sichuan, Baoshan in Yunnan, and Yixing in Jiangsu. The finished products have a beautiful effect and are favored as the top choice for skillful carving.


Pure White

Pure White South Red Agate consists mainly of white color, and due to its pure white appearance, it is also known as South Red White material. Some white South Red Agates may have natural silk inclusions, with varying and beautiful shapes. Red and white agates are often used for skillful carving, resulting in remarkably beautiful finished products.

Cultural Significance


In Chinese culture, gemstones hold immense symbolic value, and South Red Agate is no exception. The gemstone has been revered for centuries and is deeply ingrained in traditional Chinese beliefs and customs. Its red color is associated with the powerful life force of blood, symbolizing vitality and prosperity. This has led to its widespread use in auspicious occasions and celebrations, such as weddings, festivals, and important milestones.


South Red Agate is often carved into various shapes and motifs that hold auspicious meanings. Common designs include mythical creatures like dragons and phoenixes, symbolizing power and harmony, as well as traditional Chinese symbols like "fu" (福) for good fortune and "shou" (寿) for longevity. The gemstone's presence in jewelry is believed to bring good luck, happiness, and protection to the wearer.


Identification of South Red Agate



South Red Agate commonly exhibits colors such as Gansu Persimmon Yellow (orange-red), Deep Red, Pink, and occasionally less common colors like Purplish-Red. The transparent or semi-transparent variations of these colors, including nearly transparent colorless, all fall within the spectrum of South Red's color range. For white-colored South Red, the patterns on the bead's surface can vary, with some having ribbon-like textures and others displaying red and white intermingled in a half-and-half pattern. It is important to note that the patterns on South Red are very sharp, and there are noticeable angles at every transition in the patterns (a key distinguishing criterion), giving a clean and crisp impression. (In other words, clear separation between red and white!) Besides the white-colored patterns, South Red will not exhibit other changes in its red color towards transparency, except for occasional inclusions of associated minerals such as black or green.



In terms of texture, South Red has a gel-like appearance. Even fully red beads are not completely opaque; you can observe a translucent color from inside to outside, which is consistent. Conversely, even colorless beads have a somewhat hazy feel. This texture is currently difficult to replicate artificially, unless old materials are used with new craftsmanship. As a result, most fake South Red Agates are made in pure red.


Weathering Lines:

On the surface of the beads, most old beads, especially old jade beads or agate beads, will have crescent-shaped weathering lines. These lines are primarily due to prolonged use. Dzi beads and other valuable old beads have been imitated with new production techniques to create weathering lines, but they can be easily distinguished from the surface powder and paste made from water fermentation. They appear uniform in size, rigid, and lack luster in the depths of the lines (the interior of the crescent should have luster for old weathering lines).


Drilling and Inner Holes:

South Red Agate drilling has unique characteristics; it may involve double-sided drilling for larger beads (holes not very small). After long-term use, the inside of the hole will become smooth due to wear. South Red Agate, as a name itself, remains a mystery, and no one knows exactly when this term originated.


Finished Shape and Patina:

In terms of shape, smaller and more uniformly colored South Red Agate materials are often used for smaller-sized beads or pendants, while larger materials are used for decorative pieces. Common forms include olive-shaped spacers, perfectly round beads, drum-shaped beads, barrel-shaped beads, wheel-shaped beads, abacus beads, melon-shaped beads, slices, pendant beads, and various carved items based on the material blocks.


Usage in Jewelry


South Red Agate is a preferred gemstone for Chinese jewelry designers due to its versatility and vibrant appeal. It is commonly used in various forms, including cabochons, beads, and carvings, allowing artisans to create a wide range of exquisite jewelry pieces. From rings and bracelets to necklaces and earrings, South Red Agate adorns jewelry of all kinds, adding an elegant and auspicious touch to the wearer.


The Collectible Value of South Red Agate


Introduction: The term "South Red Agate" has not been in circulation for long; at least it was not prevalent until the 1990s. The definition and origin of South Red Agate are complex, with some claiming it is red agate from Yunnan while others argue it comes from the southern regions of China. However, provinces in the north, such as Gansu, also produce South Red Agate. Its history can be traced back to the Han Dynasty and continued through the Qing Dynasty. The typical shape of South Red Agate is mostly beads or bead-like forms. Nowadays, the price of South Red Agate in the market stands at the top among various agates, and there are also frequent cases of counterfeiting.


The market for South Red Agate continues to rise. Due to extremely low production, and the fact that the mine was once depleted during the Qianlong period of the Qing Dynasty, high-quality specimens are exceedingly rare in the market. As a result, collecting and investing in South Red Agate holds significant potential.


The color red holds a special auspicious meaning in Chinese culture, as it represents good wishes and positive symbolism. Some superstitious people believe that red can protect the owner from evil spirits. Consequently, the red color is very popular in China, and this has contributed to the rise in prices of South Red Agate.


In March 2011, the first high-standard exhibition of South Red Agate was held at the Beijing International Jewelry Trading Center, with the theme "Rare Treasure Returns: South Red Agate." This exhibition showcased the rising trend of collecting and investing in South Red Agate. South Red Agate is highly sought after in the jewelry and antique markets, and high-quality old agates are particularly in demand. Sometimes, even with money in hand, it is difficult to find desirable pieces.


The main production area of typical South Red Agate is in Yunnan, particularly in the representative region of Maoniu Mountain in Baoshan City. As Xu Xiake recorded, "Its color is milky white with red, not very large, about the size of a fist; this is its stem." Furthermore, South Red Agate is also produced in other regions, such as Gansu and Sichuan, which is commonly known as "Gannan Red." Jewelry pieces made from high-quality South Red Agate are scarce, and there is a limited supply of good-quality old South Red Agate stones. All these factors contribute to the increasing collectible value of South Red Agate.


Regarding market prices, while ordinary agate beads may sell for around 30 to 50 yuan each, a single old South Red Agate bead can be priced at about 300 to 400 yuan, and some exceptional old South Red Agate beads can even reach a price of over 1,000 yuan. Experts suggest that collectors should focus on colors like Persimmon Red, Cinnabar Red, and Rose Red, as these are considered the top-quality colors of South Red Agate. In terms of value, a uniform and relatively transparent color, both in finished products or raw materials, is extremely rare and commands significantly higher prices.


Counterfeit South Red Agate: There are cases of artificially enhanced South Red Agate or ordinary agate being treated with high-temperature coloration. The first type is difficult to identify. The main feature is that the color appears too uniform and perfect, and the material usually lacks inclusions. Other identification methods are beyond the scope of this discussion.


Aged Finished Products: Most aged agate, especially old jadeite or agate, will have weathering spots or crescent-shaped patterns on the surface due to the effects of long-term use, the secretion of acidic substances from the human body, and direct exposure to corrosive substances.


The preservation methods of South Red Agate are as follows:


Maintenance Considerations:


  • South Red products should avoid collisions with hard objects. Although South Red Agate has a high hardness, it can still break when impacted, especially for delicate and hollowed-out pieces, which are more susceptible to damage. It is recommended to handle, carry, and store them securely, or collect them in soft-textured boxes.
  • Clean the South Red Agate regularly. Long-term wearing or display can result in the accumulation of oil or dust on the surface of the agate. Use a soft brush to clean the dust; for oil stains, use warm soapy water to scrub and then rinse with clean water.
  • Avoid direct sunlight or extreme temperatures, as excessive heat or cold can damage the South Red Agate due to thermal expansion and contraction.
  • Avoid contact with chemicals or other substances that may corrode the South Red Agate, as it could affect its brightness and luster.
  • When wiping the South Red Agate, use a soft cloth or towel to avoid scratches and help maintain its original quality.
  • South Red Agate requires regular hydration to maintain its moisture balance. If it shows signs of severe dehydration, it can be soaked in purified water for rehydration.


The Symbolism of South Red Agate


The naturally stunning red color of South Red Agate fills it with a dreamlike aura, making people perceive its vibrant hue and subtle luster as a representation of the divine. It can symbolize the boundless solemnity of Buddhism while reflecting the will of celestial beings, thus being regarded as a sacred and inviolable object in religious contexts. Below, we will share some of the symbolism associated with South Red Agate:


Symbolism One: Throughout history, South Red Agate has been used as a talisman to ward off evil and protect oneself, symbolizing friendly love and hope. It is believed to help eliminate stress, fatigue, and negative energies.


Symbolism Two: Placing a suitable piece of South Red Agate under the pillow can promote restful sleep and bring about pleasant dreams.


Symbolism Three: South Red Agate can be used to demagnetize and charge certain crystal ornaments, such as rings, pendants, earrings, bracelets, etc., but it is recommended to wrap them with paper or cloth to avoid scratches.


Symbolism Four: Children who have regular contact with South Red Agate can be influenced by its watery characteristics, becoming more intelligent, lively, and capable of learning.


Symbolism Five: Wearing South Red Agate can strengthen one's affinity and adaptability, contributing to career growth and prosperity.


Symbolism Six: South Red Agate can improve endocrine function and enhance blood circulation, leading to a healthier complexion. The reddish-orange variety of South Red Agate can be particularly beneficial for the rectum and gastrointestinal system, activating internal organs, preventing constipation, and helping eliminate toxins. It also has soothing effects on liver problems, rheumatism, neuralgia, and varicose veins. For women, wearing South Red Agate long-term can promote smooth skin, uplifted mood, enhanced blood circulation, and bright, lively eyes.


As a gemstone believed to carry positive energies and divine symbolism, South Red Agate continues to be cherished and sought after, not only for its beauty but also for its profound cultural and spiritual significance.


The Meaning of Wearing South Red Agate


Wearing South Red Agate can help people overcome restlessness and frustration. When facing unhappy situations, touching the South Red Agate jewelry worn on the body or hands, and contemplating the intricacy of the jade carving, one can find comfort even in difficult times.


Wearing South Red Agate encourages a calm and rational approach to life's challenges. With the accumulation of time wearing this gemstone, it can also benefit the body by promoting a cheerful mood, an optimistic personality, and a reduced likelihood of falling ill.


South Red Agate is believed to nourish the heart and blood, ward off evil spirits, and attract wealth. Wearing it can improve endocrine function, enhance blood circulation, and promote a healthier complexion, providing soothing effects.


Psychologically, for individuals who feel passive or lack goals and drive, South Red Agate can stimulate curiosity and initiative, helping them set clear objectives and pursue them with determination. It may also dispel ill intentions and jealousy from others, fostering peaceful and harmonious relationships.


Is long-term wearing of South Red Agate good? Since ancient times, South Red Agate has been used medicinally, and there is a saying that "those who wear agate will live as long as South Red." Therefore, it is evident that long-term wearing of South Red Agate can bring certain benefits to the wearer.


In summary, wearing South Red Agate not only has a positive impact on one's mental and emotional well-being but also carries historical and cultural significance as a symbol of auspiciousness and protection. The enduring appeal of this gemstone is not only attributed to its beauty but also to the positive energy and spiritual meaning it represents.

Modern Interpretation


While South Red Agate remains deeply rooted in Chinese culture, its appeal has extended beyond traditional jewelry designs. Contemporary Chinese jewelry designers are incorporating this timeless gemstone into modern and innovative pieces, appealing to both domestic and international audiences. South Red Agate is now gaining popularity as a statement gemstone, appreciated for its distinct beauty and cultural significance.


In conclusion, South Red Agate holds a treasured place in Chinese jewelry, representing not only beauty and elegance but also a profound cultural legacy. With its vibrant red hues and symbolic meanings, South Red Agate continues to be a source of inspiration for designers, reflecting the rich cultural heritage and artistry of China. Whether cherished as a traditional amulet or celebrated in contemporary designs, South Red Agate remains an enduring gemstone in the world of Chinese jewelry.

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