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A Rare New Zealand Colonial Tangiwai (Bowenite) Necklace

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BelleEpoque's loves56 of 713Arts and Crafts 15ct Gold and Pearl Screw On EarringsDorrie Nossiter Necklace
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Posted 1 year ago


(136 items)

New Zealand's nephrite jade, locally called greenstone, is well known as the material used by the indigenous Maori people to make magnificent adornments and weapons, centuries before European colonisation.

There is another highly prized and much rarer type of greenstone, New Zealand Bowenite, called Tangiwai by the Maori, meaning 'maiden's tears', referring to the watery translucence of the stone.

Tangiwai is only found at two remote bays in the South Island and is believed to be the original variety of greenstone used by Maori before they discovered nephrite.

Bowenite is a semi-precious type of serpentine suitable for lapidary work and once favoured by Faberge. The New Zealand variety is of particularly fine quality, however it's now protected and virtually unobtainable.

This colonial era (circa 1900) necklace of Tangiwai is an impressive size. It's set in 9ct rose gold and the length of the drop is about 3 inches (77mm), the two main stones are both approx 14 x 10mm.

While antique Tangiwai items can be found in traditional Maori forms like earrings and pendants, I'm not aware of any other items of non-Maori colonial jewellery that feature Tangiwai, so this is an extremely rare piece.


  1. TassieDevil TassieDevil, 1 year ago
    Beautiful necklace and wonderful information!! Thank you...
  2. kyratango kyratango, 1 year ago
    Great informative post, and necklace!
    I didn't knew bowenite was so scarce and protected now :-)
  3. kiwipaul kiwipaul, 1 year ago
    Hi Kyra, it's the NZ variety that's protected in this country. In fact all greenstone is now under the ownership of the Ngai Tahu (South Island Maori) people, and cannot be removed without their permission.

    The more common greenstone materials are still obtainable, however the rare varieties are now strictly controlled.

    Because these rare varieties are so distinctive they're easily identified and people are quick to report them if they appear on the local black market.
  4. kyratango kyratango, 1 year ago
    Ooh, thank you for explaining, Paul!
  5. Bluboi Bluboi, 1 year ago
    Lovely necklace! You always have interesting stories on where/how you find things. Where did you get this necklace?
  6. kiwipaul kiwipaul, 1 year ago
    Hi Bluboi, yes for me it is about the story (almost) as much as the catch. I got this from a knowledgeable country dealer. When I asked him "how much for the greenstone necklace?" He said "It's not greenstone, it's serpentine, I've had it tested." Luckily neither he nor his gem tester made the connection with bowenite.

    I'd heard of the tangiwai/bowenite/serpentine connection, and I think it stuck in my mind because of the fabulous bowenite pieces made by Faberge.

    So I bought the necklace for a quite a low price. However I didn't have any idea that it was rare until I researched it and couldn't find any other documented colonial (European style rather than Maori style) jewellery made with tangiwai.

    Even the Maori style ones are pretty rare. An historical piece is the tangiwai pendant owned by the NZ author Katherine Mansfield. It was among her younger brother's effects returned to her after his death in WWI in 1915, you can see it here:
  7. racer4four racer4four, 1 year ago
    Apart from being a beautiful piece of colonial jewellery I am absolutely taken aback at the stones. The variations in colour are so lovely.
    Thanks for another educational and breathtaking post Paul!
  8. Peasejean55 Peasejean55, 9 months ago
    Wow, I don't know how missed this one.

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