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What Is Jade?

Jade refers to either of two durable, compact, typically green gemstones that take a high polish. Since records began, both minerals have been carved into jewellery, ornaments, small sculptures, and utilitarian objects. Today, jadeite is the most coveted jade stone; the other is nephrite.

This article provides a brief history of jade, distinguishes between the two jade stones, explains its composition and structure, and introduces three stunning pieces of jade jewellery.

Two types of jade: Jadeite and nephrite

When worked and polished, the two types of jade are distinguishable by their appearance. Polished nephrite, for instance, is oily rather than vitreous (glassy), while jadeite is the opposite. There are marked variations of translucency in both stones, too. What’s more, some colours are distinct to one stone or the other – for example, the immensely popular apple and emerald-green jades in jewellery are invariably jadeite.

Where is jade found?

In terms of geographical location, the northern Myanmar city, Mogaung, and its surrounding area has been the primary source for gem-quality jadeite for decades, while nephrite is more abundant and globally widespread.

A brief history of jade

Through the ages, jade has been cut and shaped with sandstone, slate, and quartz sand (as an abrasive) by tools made of bronze and iron before the dawn of the 19th century ushered in machine-powered lathes, steel saws, and diamond-pointed drills. Today, carborundum and diamond dust are used as abrasives in place of crushed garnets and corundum.

Both jade stones were worked into implements by Neolithic peoples in many parts of the world, with the best-known finds unearthed from the lake dwellings of Switzerland, France, Central America, China, and Mexico.

Jade is hard, heavy, and durable and maintains a good edge – Neolithic artisans coveted these physical properties coupled with its fine hues and warm polish. However, when the Neolithic cultures were succeeded by those using bronze and iron, jade gradually lost its industrial value and favour as a gemstone in all but a few regions.

Use of jade as a gemstone

Jade’s durability and dazzling colour spectrum make it highly desirable and a centrepiece of a glittering array of jewellery items, including pendants, necklaces, rings, bracelets, earrings, beads, cabochons, tumbled stones, and more. These items are often made of solid jade and combined with other gems or placed in settings made from gold, silver, or other precious metals.

Jadeite and nephrite: Composition and structure

Jadeite and nephrite differ in both chemical composition and crystalline structure. Jadeite is a silicate of sodium and aluminium and categorised as pyroxene (Px). In contrast, nephrite is a silicate of calcium and magnesium and classed as tremolite. Both stones’ internal crystals are tightly interlocked, forming a compact aggregate. Both jade stones may be white or colourless, but hues including red, green, and violet may occur due to the presence of iron, chromium, or manganese impurities.

Physical properties of jade

Jadeite Nephrite
Chemistry Silicate – pyroxene. Silicate – amphibole.
Colour Usually various shades of white to dark green, sometimes grey, pink, lilac, red, blue, yellow, orange, black, coloured by impurities. Usually ranges in colour between white, cream, and dark green.
Streak Colourless. Colourless.
Lustre Vitreous to sugary. Vitreous, greasy, silky, waxy.
Diaphaneity Translucent to opaque. Rarely semi-transparent. Translucent to opaque. Rarely semi-transparent.
Cleavage Usually not seen because of small grain size and splintery fracture. Prismatic but usually not seen because of small grain size and splintery fracture.
Mohs Scale Hardness 6.5 to 7 6 to 6.5
Specific Gravity 3.3 to 3.5 3.0 to 3.3
Diagnostic Properties Refractive index, toughness, hardness, specific gravity, grain size and habit. Colour, toughness, hardness, specific gravity, grain size, and habit.
Chemical Formula NaAlSi2O6 or Na(Al,Fe3+)Si2O6 Ca2(Mg,Fe)5Si8O22(OH)2
Crystal System Monoclinic. Monoclinic.
Refractive Index 1.66 to 1.68
(1.66 spot)
1.60 to 1.63
(1.61 spot)
Uses Jewellery, ornaments, tools, weapons, gemstones. Jewellery, ornaments, tools, weapons, gemstones.

Are all jades the same?

No, all jades are not the same. In fact, there are many different types of jade, each with its own unique color and properties. The most common type of jade is green jade, which is said to represent wisdom and peace. Other popular types of jade include white jade (associated with purity and serenity), black jade (associated with strength and power), and blue jade (associated with loyalty and truth).

Jade types and treatments

There are two main types of jade, nephrite and jadeite, and each has its own unique set of properties and treatments.

Nephrite jade is the more common of the two types and is typically a softer, more porous stone. It can be found in a variety of colours, but green is by far the most popular. Nephrite jade is often treated with a light wax or oil to improve its lustre and durability.

Jadeite is the rarer and more valuable type of jade. It is a harder, denser stone with a glass-like surface. Jadeite typically has a deep green colour, but can also be found in shades of white, blue, or even pink.

Materials confused with jade

Materials often mistaken for jade include chrysoprase, maw sit sit, serpentine, hydrogrossular garnet and aventurine. This is due to these gemstones boasting the same deep green colour that jade is most famous for, though each have subtle differences that allow you to identify their true nature.

Social importance of jade

Jade is at its most socially valuable within Chinese culture. Confucius, the revered Chinese philosopher, publicly considered jade to be a metaphor for virtue, kindness, wisdom, civility, justice, sincerity, truth and Heaven & Earth. It has also been seen to represent good health and long life.

How to spot real jade

There are some physical properties of jade which make it easier to identify. These include a smooth, bright colour, a highly reflective shine, a consistent colour with only slight variations (not patchy or blotchy) and the stone being cool to the touch, even when held in your palm for up to two minutes. However, the most effective and reliable way to check that a jade stone is authentic is to visit a jeweller, who will authenticate the jade professionally. Jade was frequently used in 1950s jewellery.

Antique jade jewellery

Mid Century Imperial Jade Leaf Earrings, Circa 1950

Embrace nature with these exquisite jade leaf earrings; intricately carved and set within a custom-crafted yellow gold setting. The dazzling emerald-green hue is complemented by the earrings’ luminous yellow gold band, creating an elegant, high-contrast finish.

Retro Jade & Old Cut Diamond Drop Earrings, Circa 1950

Featuring three vivid verdant jade leaves set at right angles, these delightful drop earrings are sure to make a statement. A small rubover set diamond centres the three jades and connects, via an articulated drop of six old cut diamonds, to a larger diamond linked to the fishhook backs.