The word jade is derived from the Spanish term ‘piedra de ijada’ which was first recorded in 1565. It is also called the 'loin stone' due to its reputed efficacy in healing ailments of the loins and kidneys. Jade, which is also known as ‘stone of heaven’, has been treasured as a precious gem material since prehistoric times.
Jade evolved in its utility with the evolution of man. The early humans used it as objects such as vessels, weapons and beaded jewelry. This was because jade has a tremendous ability to withstand breakage and therefore was an appropriate material to be used for weapons and fashion tools. In fact, in the Pagan times jade vessels were used in sacred rituals. As civilization moved on, jade gemstone acquired an economically relevant status as an item of barter.
Today jades are used in decorations, carving, and art pieces and as personal adornment in the form of jade jewelry. Jewelry items like jade bracelets, jade bangles, jade pendants, jade earrings, jade necklaces and jade rings have become fairly common and are a preferred option among women.
While jade is known to inspire the wearer’s highest spiritual goal, its aesthetic beauty is enough to satisfy the more earthly cravings. Women fall in love with carved jade showpieces and jewelry the moment they set their eyes on them.
The term jade is applied to two different rocks that are made up of different silicate minerals - jadeite and nephrite.
Today fine quality jadeite is a lot more rare and valuable. This is why it is mainly used in high-end jewelry only. However, on the other hand nephrite is very commonly available and therefore is not costly. The gem, however, can fetch very high prices for its antiquity, carving excellence and other historical considerations. To give you an example, a fine quality old carving of nephrite from the 1800’s is considered extremely valuable.
Jadeite is a sodium aluminum silicate (Na Al (SiO3)2. Its specific gravity is 3.30 to 3.36 with an average specific gravity of 3.33. The refractive index range lies between 1.654 and 1.667 and the hardness on Mohs scale is 7.
Nephrite is a hydrated silicate of calcium with magnesium and iron (Ca2 (Mg, Fe) 5 (OH)2 (Si4O11)2). Its specific gravity ranges from 2.90 to 3.02 and the refractive index ranges from between1.60-1.63 and 1.62-1.65. The gems hardness on Mohs scale is 6.5.
The most prized and valuable color of jadeite is the imperial green, a color that is similar to emerald green. The best green color jade is also popularly called as imperial jade. Very few know the fact that the mineral jade, and specifically speaking mineral jadeite, is found in many other colors and gives us lavendar jade, purple jade, pink jade, red jade, orange jade, yellow jade, brown jade, white jade, black jade and gray jade too.
Nephrite has a darker and less saturated green color than the jadeite. This is the gem that is mostly sold in market under name of jade to extract a better price.
This gemstone is mainly used in carving and is custom cut for special silver and gold jewelry. As the color of the gemstone is best displayed when it is semi-transparent it is mostly cut in the dome-shape cabochon cut. Jade is about the same hardness as quartz. Due to the strong interlocking crystals of the gem’s material, the bonding of the mass is exceptional. Besides being tough, green jade looks very beautiful when carved and polished, making it a popular stone for carved designs. The above jade carving is a priceless piece from 12 century.
The semi-transparent pure emerald green color jade commands the highest price in the gemstone market. The massive crystal structure may consist of a lot of cracks and fractures as inclusions.
While most gemstones today are sold and evaluated in terms of their carat weight, jade is usually sold by the piece. Top quality and well carved jade can be amongst the most expensive stones in the world today. It is said that an emperor once traded a piece of jade for fifteen cities.
Jadeite is more commercially valuable of the two gems. The jadeite jade can be very expensive. A certain jade necklace has been auctioned at $9.3 million! In fact very few traders today might have ever seen a real good quality jadeite piece because of rarity of the fine material.
The nephrite variety of jade is what we usually encounter in the market today since it is present in a large quantity. Modern nephrite is lower in terms of value than jadeite. It can range from few dollars to hundreds. There is no rarity of nephrite, and this is reflected in the price. The price of antique nephrite carvings is based on the antiquity of the piece, exclusivity of the material and the quality of carving alone. It is because of this vast price differential between jadeite and nephrite that, we caution buyers to get any jade article tested by a reputed gemological laboratory before purchase.
Jadeite deposits are available in plenty but fine quality jadeite rough is very rare. Jadeite mines, though known to be found in many places throughout the world (Guatemala, Russia and California), fine quality jadeite is rarely mined outside of Burma (now Myanmar). Burmese jade (often a synonym for jadeite) exhibits the finest and brightest colors with the least amount of extraneous impurities. Fine quality jadeite is amongst the rarest stones in the world today.
The gem that we commonly encounter in the market place is the nephrite. It is not a rare stone at all. Contrary to popular belief, jade mineral was not first found in China. The earliest known jade that we know of as Chinese jade was nephrite and probably came from Turkistan, northwest of China. Nephrite is mined in many places throughout the world. Taiwan, California, Alaska, British Columbia, Wyoming, New Zealand and Russia are some of the major producers of nephrite. Today, you can find various good luck jade carved Chinese Feng Shui artifacts that are meant to bring good luck if worn or kept in the house in specific locations. This concept of using good luck jade items with high energy and power has become popular around the world and is used as gifts on many occasions.
Most of the enhancements carried out on jade gemstone could be detected by standard and accessible gemological methods until the late 1980's, when a new process of treating jadeite was developed and popularized. This method involves bleaching an already-promising but stained stone, and then impregnating it with a form of plastic. The result is called ‘B’ jade. Currently, infrared spectroscopy is the only test for the detection of polymer in jadeite. Many a times a jade stone is dyed to enhance its color, but it can fade over a period of time. Treated jadeite is obviously not as expensive as the natural one.
There are various other gemstones (natural or synthetic) that closely resemble jade. They are serpentine (also bowenite), carnelian, aventurine quartz, glass, grossularite garnet, idocrase, and soapstone.
As with other precious stones, there have been many attempts to enhance and even create synthetic jade. Currently there is no commercially available synthetic jade in the gemstone market.
Jade is the official state gem of Wyoming, USA.
2) Gemmology by Peter G.Read
3) Handbook of Gem Identification - Richard T.Liddicoat, jr
4) Gems and Crystals - From the American Museum of Natural History - Anna S.Sofianides and George E.Harlow.
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