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  • Stephanie Sun

Mapping Taiwan: Huilian

Updated: Jun 28, 2020

The water splashes when hitting the riverbanks and makes their way down the stream. Little creatures travel through the aquatic plants and climb onto pebbles that have a gleam of green. These pebbles and rocks sunken on the bottom of the river were then washed up by the stream and buried under mountains of minerals.

They are the rich nephrite mined and tossed back into the wilderness.

Huilian Imagination
Huilian Imagination, 2014. Sterling silver, brass, carnelian, nephrite, peridot.

The ambitious “Mapping Taiwan” project started in 2014 and will probably continue for many years to come. “Mapping Taiwan” will be a collection of jewelry sets inspired by objects or stories that are representational to the regions of my homeland, Taiwan.

The first set of “Mapping Taiwan” took inspiration from Huilian’s streams and its famed nephrite, which is also known as jade. The ones earthed from Huilian are simply called Taiwanese Jade

In 2013, I visited Huillian and a jewelry/metalsmithing professor who used stones mined and lapidated in Huilian in her work. I learned about the mining history of Huilian, how it flourished and how it dwindled. Even though most of the mines in Huilian have stopped mining due to high cost of labor and difficulty in safe, deep tunneling processes, Huilian is still known for its rich mineral resources in Taiwan.

Due to Taiwan’s geographic formation, Huilian’s nephrite contains layers of different minerals, which made the spotty look. In the past, only a small portion of nephrite with a unified green color or the cat’s eye effect are of high economical value, so the miners would dispose the rest of the spotty nephrite into the valley and streams. These spotty nephrite are worthless, but tell such a story about the geographic formation and the history of Taiwan,

Stream Imagination
Stream Imagination, 2014. Sterling silver, nephrite.

How much is a handful of half-polished nephrite worth? Not much.

The nephrite were given to me by a Huilian mine owner, who randomly grabbed a handful out of a bucket of half-polished Nephrite. They have streaks, spots, speckles, and each one looks different with a distinct personality.

Through the process of hand polishing every single piece of these half-polished nephrite to a finer luster, I came to a deeper appreciation for the lapidarists and mother nature.

Jadeite Impression (brooch) and Rock Impression (pins) can be wear all together to form a necklace-liked pattern on clothing or wear individually as pins on the collar. Each of them were hand carved in wax, cast in sterling silver or brass, oxidized, and polished, so they are all unique in forms and expression.

Jadeite Impression and Rock Impression
Jadeite Impression, 2014. Sterling sIlver, carnelian, surgical Steel. And Rock Impression, 2014. Sterling silver, brass.

Have you ever pick up a piece of special looking rock when you are gardening or camping?

Sometimes those unintentional finds could be precious stones. Back in the days, Huilian locals were able to pick out raw Nephrite or other raw gemstones in the rivers and in the mountains. However, with the rise of tourism, precious raw minerals become harder and harder to find in the wild.

​ Photo: Stephanie Sun

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