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UPDATED: March 25, 2008 NO.13 MAR.27, 2008
Medal Marriage Made in Heaven
China will use jade in the medals for the Beijing Olympics in order to symbolize the nation's culture

Why Kunlun jade?

Last year, the government of Qinghai Province sent a letter to BOCOG, offering to donate Kunlun jade to the 2008 Olympic Games. After careful appraisal, experts decided to accept Kunlun jade as the raw material for the rings on the medals on January 2, 2008.

Kunlun jade was discovered in the 1990s. In the past two decades, Kunlun jade has become a well-known type of nephrite in China for its good quality and large quantity. Yet it has often been "eclipsed" by Hotan jade, which is known as one of the five top quality jades of China.

"The jade to be used on the Olympics medals must be flawless. The color and luster must be even and consistent," said Liu Shengchun, President of Qinghai Province Treasure and Jade Association. Liu used an example to illustrate his point. If a volleyball team is the runner-up, each team member will be awarded a silver medal. It would be awful if the jade rings inscribed on the silver medals differ in color.

According to experts, Kunlun jade is very similar to Hotan jade in composition, shape and texture, and the former has all the colors needed for the Olympics medals.

Kunlun jade is produced from Sanchahe Jade Mine in Kunlun Mountains, one of the largest mountain ranges in China. The mountain range has an average altitude of 4,500 meters above the sea level, and peaks crowned with snow. According to ancient Chinese fairytales, the mountain is home to immortal beings.

The news that Kunlun jade was chosen as the material for the Olympic medals has boosted its market price. The jade market in Golmud of Qinghai has become larger and more crowded.

Why Yangzhou City?

The design for the medals was nailed down, the raw materials picked, and the only decision left was where to make the medal. This January, 4 tons of carefully chosen top quality Kunlun jade were shipped from Qinghai in northwest China to Yangzhou City, Jiangsu Province in east China, where they will be carved into the Olympic rings.

Yangzhou is famous for its exquisite jade sculpture craftsmanship. "Although the quality of jade is very important, it takes a skillful artist to turn it into an outstanding piece of art," explained Wang Suling, General Manager of Yangzhou Kunlun Jade Ware Co. Ltd. It was not an easy task to "glue" jade and metal together, pointed out Tong Weina, President of Shanghai Mint. The greatest difficulties lie in the differences in their texture. Metals are pliable, while jade is hard but crispy. Masters of arts and crafts and engravers got together to brainstorm for a solution.

The jade is first cut into slices 7 cm in length and width, and 3.5 to 4 mm in thickness. The slices undergo a series of pre-designed procedures. "The key is to ensure the metal at the center does not slip out of the jade ring," said Wang Yipeng, professor at the School of Design, China Central Academy of Fine Arts, disclosed. A dent is carved on the side of the rings so that the metal carved with the emblem can be laid into the ring. The error margin cannot exceed 0.05 mm, which is one third of the diameter of a hair. Between the inner wall of the jade ring and the outer wall of the metal piece at the center, there is a vacuum. To reduce collision between jade and metal, damping materials are put along the inner wall of the rings. After putting jade and metal together the medals are tested. Scores of trials demonstrate that even if dropped from a height of 20 meters, the medals remain intact. These special medals will be ready to be delivered to BOCOG by June 2008.

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