I encountered the Yong Lo Sword on my first trip to Longquan China, a small but ancient city in the mountains of Zhejiang Province.
Indeed, upon ,meeting the owner of one of the biggest sword forges in the region (and therefore, in China as a whole - as Longquan is and has been the capital of sword making for over 2500 years) it was a Yong Lo Sword that he proudly displayed on the table for us to show the highest level of skill of the master smiths under his employ.
The sword itself was both breathtakingly beautiful and incredibly expensive - over $10,000 and was destined to soon be delivered to a museum for display..
In all honesty, I was completely blown away by the level of detail and luxuriously decked out fittings of this stunning piece - and only then began to get a glimpse into the little known world of high end Chinese swords.
A couple of years later, we got a chance to offer a stripped down and more economical version of this amazing historical blade. But before I take you on that journey with me, let's take a moment to examine this swords rich provenance.
The actual original sword that all the replicas are based on is currently part of the oriental gallery of the Royal Armory at Leeds and has been since 1991,where it is the centerpiece of their Chinese sword exhibition.
The sword itself is a Ming Dynasty piece (1368-1644) and Yong Lo (also known as Yongle, Yong Le and Yung Lo- it is not always easily to anglicize Chinese!), was the third emperor of this dynasty, who ascended to the throne at age 42 and ruled China for 22 years until his death in 1424.
He was an especially important figure, for during his rule, China was the biggest and most powerful state the world had ever seen, and it was the Yong Lo Emperor who fixed China's present day borders and even established the capital in Beijing.
There are some discrepancies as to when this sword was actually forged - but all are in agreement that it was between 1403 and 1420 and that it was personally gifted by the Emperor to the reincarnated Rinpoche of a Tibetan Buddhist temple where the Emperor was a student.
Believed to have been made by none other than the court workshops of the Emperor himself - no expense was spared in its construction, with gold, silver and semi-precious stones, the magnificence of the gift was seen as an extension of the majesty of the Imperial office itself.
Surviving Ming Dynasty swords are exceedingly rare - and none approaching the grandeur or exquisite beauty of the Yong Lo Sword.. It truly is in a league of its own..
The Royal Armories website has an exceptionally good listing for this item, with many pictures, a full and very detailed description and even stats:
Back in around 2016 or so we launched Project X - Forge Direct Chinese,which was a collaboration with SBG, Ronin Katana and several certified Master Smiths from Longquan city - and started out first attempt to make our very own Yong Lo Sword..
It is noted that the blade of the original now at the Royal Armory is believed to have been replaced by a different pattern welded blade of Tibetan manufacture, so the forges did their own research at a nearby university and produced a replica of the blade based on their findings.
But to make it affordable,we had to cut back on the incredible gold gilded fittings and amazing decoration of the original and the $10,000 sword we had seen on our first visit to the forge..
The result, was the Yong Lo Sword Mark I - which we were able to make available for a reasonable $1,200..
The problem was, 6-12 months later, a dispute with the smiths over our low pricing forced the premature closure of the project - and it was several months before some new forges we selected came up with our SECOND version of this sword, the Yong Lo Sword Mark II..
This time, the sword came closer to the $10,000 original, with more expensive fittings such as a full rayskin wrap and better quality fittings overall. Not to mention a better blade..
Naturally, this pushed the price up considerably - up by $800 to $1,999.99..
Still not quite a $10,000 sword - but prohibitively expensive for many..
And somewhat heavy..
The first incarnation weighed in at 3.41lbs - somewhat overweight but still manageable, while the second version came to a whopping 4.62lbs which makes it rather hard to manage..
True enough,you probably don't buy a $2000 sword for backyard cutting - and with a sword as ornate and intricately decorated as the Yong Lo Sword is, it is of course extremely well suited to the be stunning centerpiece of a sword collection.. But even though the original is believed to have had the blade swapped out from the original, at just 2.13lbs our versions came in just above and just below double the historical weight..
And then we got a lucky break...
For the popularity of the Yong Lo Sword had seen many inferior knock offs being sold at inflated prices. Until, after a fateful meeting with Mr.Sam Sung,one of the founders of Musashi Swords and current owner of Ryujin Swords,among many others,showed me the most basic version of this sword that was so often overpriced..
True enough, the blade was hand forged, but it was not made by master smiths, only their apprentices. This one had a monotempered 1060 carbon steel blade instead of folded 1095, but it was still made following the style our original forge researched for us.. And with a lighter blade, came in at a much more reasonable weight of just 2.8lbs - making it manageable and quite easy to handle.
But the best part was the price - we have not decided if it will be a regular item or not, but the price is just $399.99 - however, we negotiated hard on the pricing and have lowered our margins to the absolute bone to offer it at half price for just $199,99!
From first being introduced to this fascinating Ming design in Longquan, to having two master smith versions produced by Forge Direct and stumbling upon an incredibly cheap, yet fully functional version during a fateful meeting with Sam Sung, I have been fascinated with this design ever since I first laid eyes on it..
No doubt we will continue to work with the forges to create the best version that we possibly can - such as a more balanced, less heavy version of Mk II.
But for now, at least some honest options are available.Google 'Yongle Sword' and you will see some of the rip off out there - such as one that is suspiciously close to our first version that we sold for $1200 being listed at over $3000 on eBay.
But at least we have been able to cut through the BS and can now offer two versions,the high end Master Smith version that is a little too heavy for cutting,but is the gold standard for display. And a very affordable version that is usually being sold at much higher prices because it looks like it SHOULD be sold for close to a $1000,but can be made available for less than $200..
With Chinese Swords, especially high end pieces, it pays to be very cautious. There really are a lot of misleading deals and overpriced swords out there, but I hope that at least by being upfront, we can do our bit to try and take some of the wind out of the sails of unscrupulous sellers..
I hope this information on the Yong Lo Sword has been helpful. To return to Chinese Swords from Yong Lo Sword, click here