“He did a lot of labour-intensive jobs like hand-cutting marble and making ceramic pots in hot kilns,” she said.
In the early seventies, Hui senior successfully crossed the border to Hong Kong. It was his third attempt and the journey was difficult: “He had to swim for six hours and walk a long distance.”
He found a job cutting jade but soon ventured out on his own, setting up his first jade store not far from where the current premises is on Canton Road, Jordan, the heart and soul of Hong Kong’s jade trade.
The area is commonly known as “Jade Street” and is a gemstone’s throw from the city’s famous jade market.
While the business had its ups and downs, Anna said it was the pandemic that took a toll: “My father loved being on the move but Covid stopped all that.”
The pandemic disrupted supply chains and sourcing trips to Myanmar, which produces 90 per cent of the world’s jade, of which between 70 and 90 per cent ends up in China.
Political unrest such as the 2021 military coup in Myanmar combined with poor safety – in 2020, more than 160 people died in a mining accident – also blighted the country’s jade trade, one reported to be worth more than US$30 billion.
Luckily for the Hui family their father had stockpiled some jade before the pandemic hit – an emergency stash that kept the wheels turning, said Anna, who left a career in electronics to join the family business.
All the siblings plan to stay in the business, supporting a trade that has a long and lucrative connection with the city. In 2020, Hong Kong’s jade exports surged more than 40 per cent to top HK$1.1 billion (US$140 million).
Today the family’s business is one of the few to cover all aspects of the industry, from carving and polishing to the selling of finished products.
It also hosts workshops to teach people about jade, show how it is cut and the story behind each piece.
At the back of the shop, away from the perfectly cut and polished gemstones, are machines, some more than 30 years old. “The old machines are the best,” said Anna.
Chunks of uncut rough jade, some still bearing marks from auction, sit in piles.
Much as a diamond is defined by clarity, cut and colour, jadeite’s three most important qualities are colour, transparency and texture.
“While typically green, the most valuable colour, jade can also be purple, black, yellow and white,” said Ziennifer, whose trained eye can spot fake jade by sight and touch.
She is also keen to share her knowledge. Later that day she is taking secondary school students on a tour of the premises and workshop.
“I want to open people’s eyes to jade and give them an insight into the process behind a finished piece of jewellery,” she said, adding that there is a growing interest in jade among the younger generation, in particular jewellers keen to give the traditional craft a contemporary twist.
In Chinese culture, jade is believed to ward off evil forces, bringing good luck to the wearer, and Ziennifer says: “Jade has tremendous power and energy, it has soul.
“I never tell customers what piece to buy because they must choose something based on the emotional connection they have with it. ”