Jades

Jade is one of the most coveted and appreciated gemstones with one of the oldest and culturally significant histories in the Human tale. The Chinese have been utilizing, appreciating and admiring Jade for 5,000 years or more. Early Meso-Americans such as the Maya and the Olmec, Maori of New Zealand and others especially throughout Asia also have a deep connection with this gem.

This fine, antique Jadeite carving makes use of the natural colour differences Jade can possess. Both Jadeite and Nephrite were and continue to be prized not only for their beauty and "aura", but also for their ability to take on a sharp edge without breaking.

This fine, antique Jadeite carving makes use of the natural colour differences Jade can possess. Both Jadeite and Nephrite were and continue to be prized not only for their beauty and “aura”, but also for their ability to take on a sharp edge without breaking.

Present day people continue to have an appreciation for Jade, and its popularity endures. Top quality Jade rivals, if not regularly surpasses, the price and demand  of top quality Diamonds, Rubies,and Emeralds at auction houses. But to the novice, with a budding interest in Jade, the topic can be a little confusing. I’ll try to give you the most reliable information I can, but the topic of Jade is huge and encompasses notions of beauty, function, philosophy and traditional medicine and custom. This is just a small introduction that maybe I’ll expand upon in the future.

The term “jade” is used for two similar but distinct gem species, officially known in the West as Nephrite and Jadeite. Both of these materials share similar histories, significance and many properties.

It wasn’t until the mid 19th century that Nephrite and Jadeite were recognized as two separate and distinct gemstones. Nephrite is a fairly abundant material and has been found across the world, most notably in China, across North America (particularly on Canada’s west coast), central Europe, Russia, South America and New Zealand. Jadeite is far rarer and has been discovered in only in a handful of locations, most notably in Burma (now Myanmar) and Central America.

While most black "jade" is Nephrite, Guatemala is becoming famous for its very uniform Black Jadeite.

While most black “jade” is Nephrite, Guatemala is becoming famous for its very uniform Black Jadeite.

Nephrite was the Jade that was (and is) revered by the Maori, and is the Jade that originally captivated the Chinese, before Jadeite (also known as Burmese Jade) was discovered in Burma (now Myanmar) about 250 years ago. Jadeite is also the Jade of ancient Meso-America. Of the two, Jadeite is rarer, and more commercially desirable.

The Chinese name for Jade in general is Yu (Jadeite now being known as Hard Jade and Nephrite being known as Soft Jade), and because Yu has such a deep significance in Chinese culture, the word “Yu” is also synonymous with “beautiful”, “treasured” and “precious”. Many things, including other gems that have no chemical relation to either Nephrite or Jadeite can be described as “Yu” as a result, which can be confusing without knowing the context in which Yu is presented. An Emerald, for instance, can be described as “Yu” not because it is chemically Jade, but because it is beautiful and precious. Many good, virtuous, beautiful and/or exceptional things can be described as “Yu” in Chinese. Yu is one of the oldest continually used Chinese characters in fact.

Both Nephrite and Jadeite naturally occur in a variety of colours, including white, grey, yellow, black, and brown. Jadeite can even be lavender, red or bluish.  but the colour most associated with top quality Jadeite is Imperial Jade–a vivid, emerald slightly blueish green. Most people think of green when they think of Jade and both Nephrite and Jadeite come in a variety of greens.  Based on appearance alone, Nephrite and Jadeite can be difficult to distinguish, but gemological testing can separate the two similar materials fairly easily.

This is a fine example of Imperial Jade. The colour is very vivid and translucent. Imperial Jade commands a high price and is very rare.

This is a fine example of Imperial Jade, and much of the very finest comes from Burma (now Myanmar). The colour is very vivid and translucent. Imperial Jade commands a high price and is very rare. But an a beautiful piece of genuine Jadeite need not be thousands of dollars (or more). An attractive piece of genuine Jadeite jewellery can be purchased for a few hundred dollars and provide a lifetime of beauty with proper care and respectful wear.

While its attractive colours were probably what initially appealed to our ancestors across the globe, especially in China, both Nephrite (and later Jadeite) were found to be exceptionally durable materials to create both decorative and functional objects from. Because of its relative hardness and durability, good quality Jade is able to take on a high polish as well as a sharp edge while being resistant to breakage. Ancient tools for both ceremonial and practical uses have been found, as well as many decorative objects like vessels, jewellery, carvings and more. Unlike other materials, Jade can be shaped into relatively thin and delicate forms without compromising durability so a great amount of detail can be captured in Jade carvings.

It’s unclear how exactly it came about, but the fact that it did is indisputable. There is something beyond Jade’s physical appearance and workability that makes it so highly regarded in China and many other cultures. Jade tends to feel soothing and cool and there does seem to be a wonderful energy to it. Confucius likened the ideal human disposition to that of Jade’s characteristics, and those who have an interest in traditional Chinese medicine and philosophy believe that Jade has a similar “life energy” (or Qi, in Chinese) as the human spirit and that these two energies complement each other when they are in proximity to one another. Depending on the colouring, patterns and individuality of a piece of Jade jewellery, it is said to be of specific benefit to certain people for certain ailments, imbalances and/or desires. Ideally a piece of Jade jewellery is worn often and develops/has a very personalized relationship with its wearer.
Depending on the colour and pattern of the Jade, it is thought to be of benefit, heal or diminish certain ailments, and/or encourage the development of positive traits. The name Nephrite comes from the Greek word for “kidney” and Nephrite Jade was traditionally thought to be of benefit for the kidneys. Depending on the individual piece of Jade and the characteristics of the Wearer, it can be protective, promote spiritual growth, enhance endurance, impart wisdom and accelerate learning,  heal the heart and emotions, calm, cleanse the aura, and encourage dreams and visions.
All Jade is considered to be “lucky”, especially when given as a gift. While Nephrite jewellery (and other objects carved from it) is relatively easy to acquire, especially in areas where Nephrite is found, Jadeite jade should only be purchased from a reputable jeweller/jade seller as very convincing jade simulants abound, and many treatments that can significantly affect the durability and energy of the material often unbeknownst to an unknowledgeable seller. While an exceptional piece of Jadeite could fetch millions of dollars at auction, an attractive piece of genuine Jadeite jewellery could cost a few hundred dollars.
A nice Jadeite Bangle is a beautiful, simple and very elegant adornment–I love mine and wear it everyday with pride.

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