For thousands of years, emperors, royal wives and concubines, and wealthy families in Asia adorned themselves with jade. Steeped in tradition and cultural significance, this green beauty is slowly emerging from the shadows of more mainstream gemstones like diamonds and sapphires. Its rise in prominence is a return to authenticity and a yearning for exquisite, sophisticated, silent luxury.
This writing touches on everything you need to know about jade, including its definitions, history, lore, types, value, and how to tell if jade is real or fake.
Understand the Types of Jade: Nephrite vs Jadeite
While some people interchange the terms “jade,” “nephrite,” and “jadeite,” they refer to different materials.
- Jade is a generic term for jadeite and nephrite.
- Nephrite is a variety of actinolite, a calcium and magnesium-rich mineral. Of the two jade types, nephrite is more common. It comes in different shades of green, although it also occurs in black, white, gray, or blue.
- Jadeite is a sodium and aluminum-rich pyroxene. It is rarer and more valuable than nephrite, with hues ranging from green, lavender, white, orange, and brown. Jadeite of high quality, known as imperial jade, is nearly transparent with a vivid emerald-green color.
In terms of transparency, nephrite is often opaque to translucent with a slightly greasy or waxy luster. As for jadeite, it ranges from entirely opaque to semi-transparent with a higher sheen, appearing almost like glass or crystal.
People have cherished jade for thousands of years. It has a pure, enduring essence that inspires the highest spiritual aspirations while imbuing a luxurious allure that indulges more earthly desires.
The Chinese have been fascinated with jade since Neolithic times (3000-2000 BCE), and today, this adoration has extended its reach to non-Asian consumers. The gemstone’s appeal lies in its beauty, rarity, durability, and rich cultural heritage. Ancient Chinese civilizations even considered jade the most precious and beautiful natural material.
Nephrite finds its cultural roots in the smoky depths of prehistoric caves and primitive dwellings, where it served as an invaluable mineral. Stone Age craftsmen in China shaped this resilient gemstone into ceremonial weapons, ornaments, and artifacts. Through intricate carvings, they sought to channel the mystical forces of heaven and earth, embracing the mysteries of life and death.
In Central America, Mayans and Aztecs held jadeites in high esteem. They cherished its ornamental beauty, medicinal properties, and religious significance. The name “jade” also has Spanish roots in the expression “piedra de ijada,” which translates to “stone of the pain in the side.” This term originated from early Spanish explorers, who saw natives using jade to alleviate various aches and pains. Jadeite is also a symbol of prosperity, good fortune, and success.
China, already a custodian of a gem-carving tradition with a legacy spanning millennia, witnessed the peak of jadeite’s importance as an artistic medium. The late 18th and early 19th centuries marked the era of jadeite in China, as the gemstone made its way from Burma (now Myanmar) to China. During this time, skilled carvers produced masterpieces that remained unsurpassed in their conceptual depth, design finesse, and technical execution.
Jade has a special place in Chinese culture, as their people associate it with clarity of mind and purity of spirit, among other symbolisms. Some ancient motifs carried forward into modern jade carvings include:
- Dragon: Power, prosperity, and good luck
- Bat: Happiness
- Butterfly: Conjugal bliss and joy
- Peach: Immortality
- Flat jade discs (bi-discs): Heaven
Today, these symbols instill jade creations with profound meaning and cultural significance throughout Asia and the world.
Grade A, B, and C Jade: Value Factors
Experts grade nephrite and jadeite based on the treatments they receive:
- Type A: Natural jade. It may have a wax coating, but nothing more.
- Type B: Bleach and polymer-treated jade.
- Type C: Dye-treated jade.
- Type B+C: Bleach, polymer, and dye-treated jade.
Biltmore Loan and Jewelry recommends buying Type A jade only. Treatments often weaken the gem, lower its value, and infuse potentially hazardous chemicals. However, figuring out whether jade jewelry has undergone treatments can be difficult. An instrument called infrared spectroscopy is necessary to provide conclusive evidence of bleach, polymer, and dye in jade pieces.
Aside from purity, other value factors for jade are color, design, origin, size, transparency, and texture.
- The most valuable jade color is emerald-green or “imperial jade,” which occurs in jadeite from Myanmar (a.k.a. Burmese jade).
- Many dealers price carved jade by piece, not carat, as artistry and origin are dominant value factors.
- Grade A jadeite looks almost like glass or jelly, which is worth more than its cloudy counterparts. As for the texture, smooth and lustrous jade is more valuable.
There are different at-home tests to determine the authenticity of jade, including:
- Sound test: To check the authenticity of a jade bangle, hang it on your non-dominant hand’s index finger. Allow it to sway freely. Using your other hand, gently tap the stone with a metal coin or bi-disc. Listen for a ringing, reverberating sound – a characteristic of genuine jade. Do not tap too hard; real jade will break with enough force. This test may not work for smaller pieces.
- Scratch test: Try to scratch the surface with a metal object (a coin or small knife will do); natural jade does not scratch easily.
- Light test: Hold the jade up to a light source and observe its translucency; authentic jade often displays a degree of translucency, allowing light to pass through.
- Temperature test: Real jade feels cold to the touch, even in warm conditions. Try holding it against your face or in between the palms of your hands. If the stone feels cool against your skin, it may be authentic.
- Hot needle test: Heat a needle and press it against the stone’s surface; genuine jade will not sustain damage from heat exposure.
The market is oversaturated with low-grade and fake jades. Unless you have a trained eye, the only surefire way to determine if you have the real deal is to seek professional jade appraisals in Phoenix, Arizona. The tests above may be fun to try at home, but they cannot guarantee whether your jade is real, fake, all-natural, or treated. Bring your jade jewelry to our office in Scottsdale or Chandler for an accurate assessment.