Frequently Asked Questions

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  1. Why have I never heard of zitan before if it's indeed so precious?
  2. What makes zitan furniture an "investment"?
  3. There are many kinds of dark hardwood used in Chinese furniture, how can I tell them apart?
  4. Why does my zitan piece appear to be dark reddish purple?
  5. Why is your zitan better than other sources such as those from Vietnam?
  6. Can you make zitan veneer?
  7. How long does it take from order to delivery?
  8. What is the status of my order?
  9. Do you also produce small pieces?
  10. I don't' see anything I like, how do I place a special order?
  11. Why do so many things come in sets of two or three?
  12. I am a consumer, how do I obtain pricing?
  13. How do I obtain whole sale pricing?
   

1. Why have I never heard of zitan if it's indeed so precious?

Unlike huanghuali or hongmu, zitan pieces have never been sold in significant numbers in the international furniture market, precisely because they are so rare and valuable. There is an extremely limited supply of zitan in the world, and most of the older pieces reside in museums in China and a few other countries, such as Great Britain. Very few westerners learned anything about zitan before its depletion in China in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In traditional Chinese culture zitan was a rare symbol of wealth, status and sophistication and, therefore, even today is considered unattainable even by people of Chinese descent around the world who have the means to own it. Furthermore, because only imperial families and exceptional citizens were allowed to own and use zitan furniture, few pieces were handed down and survived to the present day. According to Classic Chinese Furniture Ming and Early Qing Dynasties, by Wang ShiXiang, the most authoritative figure in the studies of Classical Chinese Furniture, "from the very ancient times the Chinese have considered zitan the most precious wood . . . Occasionally we find large pieces of zitan wood furniture . . . because of the scarcity of large zitan trees, [these pieces] are treated as exceptional treasures."

2. What makes zitan furniture an "investment"?

Zitan and other similar precious hardwood furniture have always been favorites among furniture connoisseurs, dealers and collectors. Because zitan is so rare, large contemporary furniture made of zitan are almost never seen in today's market. Examples of antique furniture made of zitan and huanghuali sold at auction provide a glimpse of the value these pieces hold. For example, in 1999 a zitan canopy bed dated early 18th century was estimated to be worth $300,000 to $400,000 at Sotheby's Asia furniture auction week. A contemporary reproduction of a zitan painting table, produced in 1999, was recently sold at a Sotheby's auction in Beijing for $55,000. This zitan painting table was crafted by the same artisan we often retain for our pieces.

3. There are many kinds of dark hardwood used in Chinese furniture, how can I tell them apart?

It is true that many Classical Chinese pieces appear to be quite dark, and some lacquered pieces were purposely made to look like zitan. We advise all buyers to check the authenticity of any pieces they consider, and specifically identify the source and origin of the zitan. The next question in this series deals with assessing the zitan through its color. One simple test, however, is based on the fact that zitan is so dense that it sinks in water. You will likely not be able to actually immerse a piece you are considering in water, but in assessing it consider the fact that the piece should be extremely heavy for its size, almost unbelievably so. Additionally, zitan has a very fine grain that is said to resemble ox hair. At Zitantique, we specialize in premium quality zitan, and for each piece of zitan furniture, we will furnish an authentication certificate provided by an independent third party expert with decades of experience authenticating precious hardwoods. In addition, at your request, we shall provide a small piece of wood taken from the same log as your furniture piece for you to perform the water test if you so desire.

4. Why does my zitan piece appear to be dark reddish purple?

Another unique aspect of zitan is that the oxygenation process does not stop at the point when the furniture is made. Zitan is dark reddish purple soon after it is cut and as time goes on, it becomes darker. It is as if the wood comes alive under the touch of human hands - it gets smoother and more lustrous as the furniture ages, and eventually it becomes complete black, the grains invisible. Like fine wine, zitan gets better with age.

5. Why is your zitan better than other sources such as those from Vietnam?

This is not only a quality issue but also a philosophical issue. Having traveled and spent significant time in Asia, Europe, Africa and North America, the founders of Zitantique share the values of many of the world's citizens. We only have one earth and we will do what we can to preserve it and its resources. Having said that, being able to transform zitan into objects of timeless beauty and having only limited resources do not necessarily conflict. Under a special certification program that benefits forestry conservation programs in Africa, Zitantique's partner company has secured the last known quality source of zitan timber from an island country off the coast of East Africa. Subsequent to this, the government imposed a moratorium on the harvesting and export of zitan to allow the resource to renew and recover. Due to the particularly favorable conditions in which this timber has grown, the zitan in our care is exceptionally durable, and many of our logs are over 30 centimeters in diameter, which is extremely unusual. It typically takes a zitan tree 300 years to grow to this diameter. We have not seen other sources of zitan of this quality anywhere in the world.

Much of the limited supply of zitan available on the market today is from Southeast Asia, primarily Vietnam. Unfortunately, these trees were cut down while they were still very young, only 10 to 20 centimeters in diameter, resulting in zitan wood that is less durable and cannot be made into large pieces using traditional Chinese techniques. Although pieces made from this wood command premium prices in the markets of Taiwan and Hong Kong, they are of inferior quality. In addition to using immature wood, other manufacturers often do not properly prepare the wood for manufacture by letting it cure in a variety of environmental conditions. Many pieces made from immature wood crack soon after manufacture or sale. We are fortunate to be able to provide collectors and connoisseurs this special source of premium zitan timber from East Africa, treated according to time-tested techniques and hand crafted into beautiful furniture that your family will enjoy for generations.

6. Can you make zitan veneer?

Although it is possible to make a zitan veneer, it would be a violation of the tradition and aesthetics of Chinese joinery and we would never do it. Three qualities underlying Classical Chinese furniture are simplicity, purity and wholeness. Regardless the type of wood chosen or the final price of the piece you select from us, you will find that everything we sell honors those principles. We make only solid wood furniture, no veneers or inlays, and every joint and join is clearly visible on the surface, just as Chinese furniture has been made for centuries. Experts often say that Chinese Classical furniture reveals the ability, or lack of ability, of cabinetmakers to a pitiless degree, because the very skeleton of a piece, its structure and joints, can be seen clearly on the surface of the wood. Some might say it is a waste of material, but we see it as an essential purity that imbues our products with lasting durability and quality. We would rather make fewer pieces with the resources we have and feel intense pride in offerings. We trust you too will see the value in owning something so pure, so intensely real.

7. How Long does it take from order to delivery?

From order to delivery, the process is usually 90 to 120 days, depending on the material chosen and the complexity of the piece. Zitan is the most time-consuming material, because it requires a special oxygenation and stabilization process prior to being made into furniture. As explained in the zitan page, zitan is highly susceptible to changes in temperature and humidity, and thus requires special preparation. Upon receipt of your order, we typically inquire about the final destination of the piece to determine the proper treatment it should receive to appear at its best for generations to come. This process will help preserve the furniture allowing to last for hundreds of years if properly cared for. Another variable in the manufacturing time is the amount of design detail specified. From the beginning to end, your furniture will receive unstinting dedication, handled only by the most skilled artisans alive today in China, and hand crafted to perfection. For something so ever lasting and so unique, we trust that you would find the wait is well worth your time.

8. What is the status of my order?

Zitantique prides itself for providing customer satisfaction every step of the way. We will keep you informed of the progress of your chosen piece through emails or personal phone calls, whichever you prefer. Digital photos will be provided to you at your request, so that you know where your ordered piece is at in terms of the various stage and how it is being produced.

9. Do you also produce small pieces?

Realizing zitan has often known as the jewel wood for making small objects because of its scarcity, we encourage those who have not used zitan furniture to start with a small object. In fact we commission some of the most talented carving artists alive today in China to produce small carved objects for customers. The same artists have all worked on projects for the museums of China, many have won awards for the objects they have carved.

10. I don't see anything I like, how do I place a special order?

We welcome special orders. In fact, in a sense every order is a special order because it is made only to order and customized for each customer. The items we display in our catalog are intended only to show a range of examples of the kinds of furniture and other pieces we can provide. Following the tradition of fine Chinese Classical furniture, we produce everything by hand from handpicked logs. Simply fill out an online order form specifying your requirements, fax or email your desired style and design and we will be happy to assist you. If you need assistance with any of your design specifications, we'd be happy to refer you to one of our seasoned portfolio designers either based in United States or Beijing, China and work with you to come up with a truly unique piece.

11. Why do so many things come in sets of two or three?

The short answer is a set of Chinese principles known as FengShui. Many who studied Asian culture and arts will find that things in Asian households appear in pair, or sometimes a set of three. This is because the Chinese believe that to have good chi, the essential element of good FengShui, one must induce harmony and good fortune by properly arranging things, mostly in a symmetrical manner. In the case of furniture, harmony results from items appearing in pairs, perhaps accompanied by an accent piece. Thus it is common for Ming and Qing style furniture, especially chairs, to come in pairs, often coupled with a side table to be used to hold tea. Though we often offer furniture in sets to conform with this practice, we are happy to sell individual pieces.

12. I'm a consumer, How do I obtain pricing?

Simply fill out an online order form, email us or call us at 510-204-9461 and we will happy to assist you. If using our form or email, please let us know how you would like us to contact you.

13. How do I obtain whole sale pricing?

We offer wholesale pricing for resellers and others in the design and furniture trades purchasing from us in quantity only. We welcome the opportunity to work with interior designers, dealers and resellers. Please call us at 510-204-9461 or drop us an email and include your company name, title and the nature of your business.

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