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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.