What Is Jade?

by Ultimate Jewelry Guide
What Is Jade?

Stone of Heaven– Jade, has long been revered by gem lovers & purveyors. In prehistoric times, people shaped this toughest gem into weapons, ornaments and tools. Over time, it transitioned into beautiful jewelry and adornments. 

Regarded as a spiritual stone with talismanic & healing properties, Jade is embedded in Chinese culture & psyche. In Asia as well, jade has held a special status and is regarded as the gem of choice for the royalty.

In this blog we will discuss what is jade, its classification, value factors, sources, treatments, famous & sought after jade pieces and everything else you would want to know about this viridescent wonder of nature.

What Is Jade?

The word jade is derived from ‘piedra de hijada’ or ‘stone of the flank’, the Spanish name for jade. The Spanish adventurers in the time of Cortes brought back the jade pieces which they found among the Indians. 

This translucent to opaque mineral stone comes in various colors, displaying shades from green to black, and white to gray, however, the green varieties of this stone are the most prized.

Jade has strong astrological significance too. Besides being coveted for its worth, Jade symbolism has encompassed themes of harmony, virtue, luck, prosperity & longevity.

Jadeite vs. Nephrite

The term ‘Jade’ enjoys widespread use in the trade. However, it is a generic term for two gemstones types- ‘Jadeite’ and ‘Nephrite’. Both are highly prized gems, however Jadeite is rarer and therefore expensive, while nephrite is more abundant. 

Owing to the nature of the material, the type of jade that is used for making jewelry is almost always jadeite instead of nephrite. This is especially true for the high end exquisite pieces.

Nephrite is typically found in shades of white or green and its color is mostly pale and not so vibrant, compared to jadeite. In fact, what’s special about Jadeite is that it can come in a wide range of attractive colors.

It can be often difficult to distinguish between jadeite and nephrite, which is why it’s so common to use the term Jade to encompass both gemstones. 

Gemological Properties Of Jadeite & Nephrite

JadeiteNephrite
Chemical CompositionMade of sodium & aluminumMade of calcium & magnesium
Crystal SystemMonoclinicMonoclinic
Mohs Hardness76.5
Refractive Index1.661.61
Specific Gravity3.342.95
LusterVitreous-greasyVitreous-greasy

Where Does Jade Come From?

The importance of the origin of jade is relevant when determining its value. Although they may be classified under the same name, jade found in different mines have different characteristics.

Jadeite deposits have been located in various locations in the world. Jadeite from Myanmar (Burma) is the most expensive and is unrivalled by value than any others with easily 10 times higher in price. Other sources include US, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Mexico, Japan, Russia, Kazakhstan. 

Nephrite is primarily found in Canada, New Zealand, China, Russia, Taiwan, Italy, Alaska, Wyoming, and Turkestan. 

The British Columbia province in Canada is the currently the principal source of green nephrite with vast amounts of depository sites. White nephrite (also called white jade) found in the Xinjiang province of China is highest in value within its category.

How Is Jade Evaluated?

In the 1st Chinese dictionary, Xu Shen compared Jade’s texture, luster, color, translucence and its far-reaching sound when struck, to the five virtues of benevolence, righteousness, wisdom, courage & integrity.

The quality of jade is evaluated through the speculation of: Color, Translucence and Texture, Clarity and Cut.

Color

If you thought that Jade is just green, you would be surprised to know that it is available in bright splashes of colors such as yellow, white, blue, lavender, orange and black as well.

Ideally, color should be even to the unaided eye, without spotting or veins. Any form of mottling, dark irregular specks that detract from the overall appearance of the stone will reduce the value.

Pure jadeite is colorless/ white. Elements such as chromium colors jadeite green, iron yellow- brown, and manganese pink to purple. The most desirable color of jadeite is a rich, homogeneous, translucent green called Imperial Jade.

Nephrite comes in various shades of green and grey along with brown, yellow, and white variations. China’s popular ‘mutton fat jade’ is white nephrite.

Transparency

Finest jade is semi-transparent. More translucent the jade is, more light it absorbs & reflects and displays higher ‘water content’ which seems to glow.

It is interesting to note that even if the overall color is uneven or low in saturation, jadeite can still be quite valuable if it has good transparency. Opaque jade with cloudy patches typically has the least value. 

Texture

It ranges from fine, medium to coarse. As jade is often worn against skin, the texture should be smooth and even, make it irresistible to feel and touch it time & again.

Texture is intimately related to transparency. Typically, the finer the texture, the higher the transparency. High value jadeite is fine or smooth in texture and does not have a coarse granular look.

Clarity

Jade being a product of nature, created through tremendous heat and pressure, usually have natural flaws. In terms of clarity, fine jadeite should be free from noticeable inclusions that impair the passage of light. 

Typical imperfections are mineral inclusions, which usually are black, green, or brown. 

The most severe clarity defects in jadeite are fractures, which can have an enormous impact on value. That said, virtually all jadeite has feathers that are visible under magnification.

Cut

Jade is rarely faceted like other gems. The best cut to capture its inner glow is a cabochon. As a versatile gem, it can also be intricately carved and fashioned as beads. Material used for cabochons is generally of higher quality than that used for carvings.


With cabochons, the key factors in evaluating cut are the contour of the dome, the symmetry and proportions of the cabochon, and its thickness. Cabochon domes should be smoothly curved. Proportions should be well balanced, not too narrow or wide, with a pleasing length-to-width ratio.

Which Type Of Jade Is Best?

There are 3 types of jadeite which are recognized industry wide: –

Type A

Type A jade is natural, meaning it hasn’t undergone any artificial treatment to beautify it. Each element used for cleaning and polishing these stones is natural. 

Type A is an investment grade gem having collectors value.

‘Imperial Jadeite’ is the top notch quality of jade that is pure-vivid green colored by chromium. It is almost transparent, with very fine texture and a vibrant green color.

Type B

These jade gemstones are authentic too with their natural color, but they receive artificial treatments to improve their appearance. 

Jewelers bleach these stones for purification and then impregnate them with polymer to intensify the translucent properties. These jade pieces look more polished than the Type A variations but they have less durability and may become brittle over time.

Type C

Type C refers to treated jade, which is the lowest grade among all real jade types available in the market. 

These stones are not only bleached, but also dyed extensively to enhance transparency. 

The color dye used for the type C manufacturing will fade with time and with extreme exposure to light and heat.

Famous Jade Jewelry

Barbara Hutton’s Jadeite Bangle

The Barbara Hutton’s Jadeite bangle was auctioned and sold for $7M HKD in 1988. 

It’s a finely carved jadeite bangle in a twisted ribbon design. Barbra inherited her fortune from her grandfather Frank Winfield Woolworth, founder of the successful Woolworth department stores. She was an avid collector of jadeite and after her death, Hutton left behind a fine collection of jadeite jewellery.  

The Doubly Fortunate Necklace

The record price for a single piece of jadeite jewelry was set at the November 1997 at Christie’s Hong Kong sale. The Doubly Fortunate necklace has approximately 15 mm jadeite beads, sold for US$9.3 million.

The Hutton- Mdivani Necklace

A noteworthy jadeite necklace from the Barbara Hutton collection, set a new world auction record for any jadeite jewelry at $38M AUD, double the initial estimate.  

The 27 graduated, highly translucent and intensely coloured beads are held together by platinum and 18K yellow gold clasp set with rubies and diamonds. 

The necklace was bought by the Cartier collection at the Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong. 

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