speaker's guide to life in today's China
Every Two Weeks
Happy Crystal Balls
Learn to tell the good from the bad from the overpriced before buying Happy Crystal Balls in China's markets
All over China, merchants hawk Happy Crystal Balls (xingfu qiu). Venders will tell you these spheres can be used to heal various aliments and may try to convince you they are quartz crystal, but buyer beware: Happy Crystal Balls are man-made quartz. Nonetheless, these enchanting spheres in reds, yellows and white can make great gifts, especially as the holidays approach. But first, learn to tell the good from the bad from the overpriced with Ruth Lor Malloy, author of Gems and Jewelry in Hong Kong.
THE SKINNY: The healing power of quartz crystals is highly disputed, but many believe that crystals radiate an energy, which makes them useful in manufacturing fiber optics and electronics. That crystals help heal is a matter of faith, and that belief has existed for thousands of years. Believers say red quartz crystals clear your mind and improve your memory, while clear quartz crystals radiate healing energy. Genuine crystals are not cheap and for those who wish to try an alternative healing method, quartz may be the way to go. China's Happy Crystal Balls are made of quartz, which also arguably contains a traditional healing property and costs much less.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Clear natural crystal balls are rarely over 7cm in diameter while reconstituted crystals are fashioned into spheres up to 40cm. Natural quartz might have cleavage lines and inclusions, while the man-made gems look too perfect. The reconstituted variety might also have white fluff as well as swirls of lovely red dye amid transparent and colorless stone. "Reconstructed crystal would be very effective in healing because impurities are burned away, so you are left with pure quartz plus coloring agents," said Mike McKnight who sells Chinese quartz glass balls on the U.S. based web-site http://www.wehug.com/.
THE GO TO: You can find these doctored crystals in expensive hotel stores that will ask 1500 RMB for a red 12cm sphere. But before you start haggling, take a look at the Panjiayuan Market in Beijing where six-sided 12 cm obelisks sell for 20 RMB or 30 RMB. And just outside Fuyou Market on Shanghai's Lao Jie (Old Street), there's a larger selection of 12cm spheres, each for about 200 RMB. You can save even more by going to the source, but you do have to pay for the flight to Lianyungang, in Jiangsu province, between Beijing and Shanghai. This "crystal capital of China" claims to have the biggest gem market in the country. If you insist on genuine natural crystals, you can buy these in Lianyungang too, but that's tens of thousands of kuai.
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