In ancient China, only royal families had the richly decorated, intricately designed jewelry and vases of cloisonné, and the ensuing centuries have seen technology increasingly employed to shorten the time-consuming process. “The best cloisonné is still made by hand, not by machine,” says Nancy, who calls the craft a dying art. She recommends the Cloisonné Factory in suburban Beijing, where guests should look for a master piece. That’s not a typo; Nancy explains, “A ‘master piece’ means one master made the object from start to finish.”
Whether freshwater or cultured, the iridescent glow of the world’s oldest gem has been coveted for 4,000 years. “The Pearl Market in Beijing has different types of pearls, many not well known,” says Nancy. “There are beautiful freshwater cultured pearls from China, but also akoya, Tahitian and South Sea pearls.” She adds that looking at the many different types is fascinating unto itself, but the Pearl Market has a vast number of pins, necklaces and small objects made with the gems.
Many people are surprised to know jade comes in colors other than the traditional green. Jadelite, the most valuable type of jade because of its texture and transparency, also exists in lavender, white, yellow and pink. It is a spiritual stone that the Chinese people believe comes with various powers, able to bestow anything from improved health to financial success. Nancy recommends purchasing the gem in Xian, called the hometown of jade due to its large number of mines.
Few fabrics are as luxurious as mulberry silk, the highest quality of silk available. It is so named because it’s produced from silkworms who feed on mulberry leaves grown solely for the purpose of creating the sumptuous fabric. “The Shanghai Factory in Shanghai is an excellent place to explore,” says Nancy. “You can learn about silk production before proceeding into the shop.” Visitors will find a wide array of items including slippers, silk pajamas, jewelry box linings, clothing and bedding.
It is said that Hangzhou is to tea as Reims is to French Champagne, with many tea plantations that produce a superb product. The city is known for originating Longiing, a renowned variety of green tea, and the various types of Longiing are so fresh and light they have traditionally been reserved for government officials and the wealthy elite. “There is nowhere else to purchase tea as close to the source,” says Nancy, adding that the city’s bucolic tea plantations produce Dragon Well, Wulong and Puer tea, among others.