Jade

Range of jadeite color from GIA and Mason Kay.

Range of jadeite color from GIA and Mason Kay.

Jade is term that is used for, not one but, actually two distinct gemstones: nephrite and jadeite. Both types of jade are metamorphic rocks made up of tiny interlocking mineral crystals.

One form of jade, jadeite can be found in a startling variety of unexpected colors: lots of greens, yellow, reddish-orange, white, gray, black, brown, and lavender. The gemstones can be streaked or mottled, which has delighted carvers for centuries. They use these color variations to create imaginative and intriguing effects in their artwork and jewelry.

Nephrite, the other form of jade, also varies in its color range. It is found in hues from light to dark green, yellow, brown, black, gray, or white. It can be translucent or opaque and its colors tend to be more subdued than jadeite. But, like jadeite, the stone is often mottled or streaked. Nephrite, the other form of jade, also varies in its color range. It is found in hues from light to dark green, yellow, brown, black, gray, or white. It can be translucent or opaque and its colors tend to be more subdued than jadeite. But, like jadeite, the stone is often mottled or streaked.

Which color is the most valuable? That would be an intense green shade of jadeite known as Imperial Jade.

The most valuable color of jadeite is Imperial Jade. From GIA and Mason Kay.

The most valuable color of jadeite is Imperial Jade. From GIA and Mason Kay.

Jadeite, when it is exceptional, can command astounding prices in the international market. An expert buyer will evaluate a specimen's color, transparency, texture and cut.

Color

Color is jade’s most important value factor. The finest-quality jade — almost transparent with a vibrant emerald-green color — is known as “Imperial Jade.” The royal court of China once had a standing order for all available material of this kind, and it’s one of the world’s most expensive gems.

The green that can command millions of dollars in the marketplace is pure and penetrating, a vivid hue with no hint of gray that looks intense even from a distance. It ranges from pure green to a slightly bluish-green or a slightly yellowish-green.

Transparency

Jade’s transparency ranges from completely opaque to semitransparent. The best jade is semitransparent, meaning the text you can read through it would be only slightly blurred. Because light penetrates below the surface, semitransparent jade has an alluring brilliance. It almost appears to glow.

This amazing jade necklace appears to glow with a green inner light.  The cabochon cut is ideal for capturing this quality of jade.

This amazing jade necklace appears to glow with a green inner light.  The cabochon cut is ideal for capturing this quality of jade.

This dagger has a carved jade hilt.

This dagger has a carved jade hilt.

Texture

Jadeite’s texture can be fine, medium, or coarse. (Sounds familiar.... I'm thinking sandpaper??) It all depends on the crystal size and hardness. The crystals, also known as grains, interlock, which makes the gemstone so very strong and resistant to breaking. Because of this, jade was once used to make beautiful, but also effective, tools and weapons.

Cut

The finest-quality jadeite is usually cut into cabochons or round beads. When evaluating a jadeite cabochon, symmetry, proportion, and thickness are important factors in determining value. With jadeite beads, color and texture are vital. Because matching is difficult, longer strands or larger beads can sell for breathtakingly high prices.

The jade bangle has a long history. They first carved in China from nephrite and are thought to date back at least four thousand years. A jadeite bangles are believed by many to bring peace and protection to its wearer.

Some bangles are hololiths, carved entirely from a single piece of rough. When made this way there is a great deal of stone loss. Because of this, hololith bangles cost more than bangles that are fashioned from two or more pieces.

History and symbols

You will often see jade fashioned into the Chinese symbol for eternity called "bi." It is a convex or plump disk with a round hole in its center. The earliest bi were produced in the Neolithic period, particularly by the Liangzhu culture (3400–2250 BCE).

The Chinese have long associated jade with clarity of mind and purity of spirit. Some of the ancient symbols are still used in modern jade pieces. Here are a few:

  • Bat: happiness
  • Cat: protector against evil spirits of the night (double cats symbolize conjugal bliss!)
  • Dragon: Yang (masculine strength and goodness)
  • Frog: good fortune in gambling
  • Gourd: mystery, magic
  • Mushroom: longevity or immortality
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