Chinese Mystery Ball

A version of this letter has been forwarded to Benjamin Mark our
local tidbits expert. I thought that maybe some of the other esteem
experts on this forum might have a comment about the Jadeite Mystery

A customer walked into my store today carrying a Jadeite Dragon and
Ball. The ball sat on top of the dragons back. The ball was made up
of a dozen layers of successively smaller balls. Each one carved
intricately, (although no Chinese symbols were carved into it) and
when lined up there were a series of holes that went all the way to
the center of the piece. I was astounded by the craftsman ship it must
have taken to create this complicated toy. Each layer spun
independently. Was this carved from the outside in, or the inside
out? What tool would be needed to carve each layer of the ball? Upon
asking her what she had paid for this set while visiting China a few
years ago, she replied that it was in Chinese currency, but it could
not have been more than $100 U.S. So therefore my question has to
be. Are these a machine made tourist item or is the mystery ball the
work of a single skilled peasant taking over a year to create? The low
cost leads me to suspect that these are simply manufactured, and also
the grade of Jadeite was dull and somewhat gray green. After further
research we came up with a possible identification of Chloromelanite,
because of the small black spots through out both pieces’. I remember
reading about the balls in one of my GIA course books, but was not
able to find the entry. After my customer left, I realized I should
have taken a digital photo of it, unfortunately I did not. If anyone
can shed some light on this topic I would appreciate it.

Harley Groff

Barbara’s Treasure Chest
Fine Custom Jewelry
5005 Colleyville Blvd.
Suite 180
Colleyville, Texas 76034

Harley and Barbara,

The Chinese mystery ball is cut by hand with a thin sawblade. They
are made in simple versions of four layers to some I have heard of as
many as 24 layers. A chinese friend of mine has one of six layers.
They are made of stone, bone, or wood.

The labor rates in China, however, makes $100 a fortune.

Chris Maugham
Harrisburg, PA

harley - the jade balls within balls are carved from the outside
inward, ball by ball. as soon as the first layer is finished in the
final form, the next is started & then at a certain point that ball
is cut free from the first & finished, then so forth & so on to the
last ball. i have fallen heir to ivory balls in this form in the
past. as to the low price, remember you are seeing the product of
someone whose yearly income few of us could live on for a week. ive

Drill a series of tapered holes into the sphere. Next insert a small
circular blade deep into the holes and cut the material between the
holes. Now use a larger blade and cut the spaces between holes. Next
use a larger blade and cut the spaces between holes. Next… Polishing
the spheres, now that is another problem. Will Estavillo,