You’re likely familiar with jade. The green gemstone is known for its significant place in Chinese heritage and culture, but also can be found in a range of jewelry. While not boasting the clarity of a high-shining emerald, jade is still beautifully and vibrantly green in its own right. If you’ve been considering adding some jade jewelry to your collection, here’s everything you need to know.
A gemstone that has been used for its beauty for thousands of years, nephrite jade was used for its practical purposes even earlier, as early as the Stone Age. During this era, neolithic workers across Europe and Asia would use jade in weapons, tools and other objects, taking advantage of the stone’s tough durability. However, jade would also be used in an artistic and ritualistic manner around the same time. In China, artists created work with jade stones as much as 3,000 years ago, while, in Central America, Mayan and Aztec cultures would use jadeite jade in conjunction with religious and even medicinal ceremonies.
Jade is mentioned in a variety of historical texts. The Chinese character or word for jade is one of the oldest in the language, coming into use as early as 2950 BCE. Philosopher Confucius wrote about jade, noting that the gemstone represented heaven.
What is Jade?
But what is jade and what makes it so special? Beyond its durability that made it valuable for use in tools and weapons during the Stone Age, and its beauty that attracted the eyes of many an ancient culture, jade is still valued by collectors today, for a variety of reasons.
Jade can be split into two different categories: jadeite jade and nephrite jade. Both share their similarities, such as toughness, but there are still some differences. Jadeite, for example, comes in many, many colors, far beyond just the characteristic green; some jadeite gemstones even feature patterned or mottled coloration. In comparison, nephrite jade normally doesn’t boast the same bright hues and it comes in fewer colors than jadeite jade. Often, whenever someone talks about “jade,” they could be referencing either type.
The most expensive and finest jadeite is the typical bright, vibrant green jade that you’re probably most familiar with. This is more specifically called imperial jade. High-quality jade will be semi-transparent, though you can find jade gemstones that range in transparency from opaque to semi-transparent. The texture is typically smooth and even.
Jade can be carved into a variety of shapes. Historically, the shape of the carving would relate to the jade’s symbolism; a Chinese jade carving depicting a bat would symbolize happiness, while a butterfly would symbolize a long life, a dragon would symbolize power and prosperity, and a peach would symbolize immortality. One of the most popular carvings, however, is known as the “bi”, which is a flat, circular jade disk with a hole in the middle; the bi symbolizes heaven.
What to Know When Buying Jade
So, if you’re considering buying a piece of jade or a piece of jade jewelry, what do you need to know? Do the four Cs — clarity, cut, carat and color — that are often used to grade gemstones still apply? Well … kind of, but not really. For example, while most gemstones are sold according to their carat weight, jade is sold by the piece.
Color, obviously, still factors into the price of a jade piece and as mentioned, the most desirable shade of jade is that imperial hue that’s a rich, emerald tone. If you find a piece of imperial jade, with no additional coloring, you’ll also find a price tag that can stretch into the millions of dollars.
However, imperial isn’t the only shade of jade that’s desirable. Other popular shades include kingfisher, which is just slightly less vivid than imperial; apple, which features a yellow undertone; and moss-in-snow, which is white with green accents. Beyond the green hues, lavender, black, orange and red jade are also popular and, with any color, a premium is put on pieces that are more vibrant and vivid.
When judging a piece of jade’s clarity, things differ from how one might normally judge a gemstone, as jade can be opaque or semitransparent, unlike some of its fellow precious stones. Semitransparent, though, is the most valuable, as the passing light increases the jade’s color and brilliance.
When it comes to cut, most jade is polished to a sheen in Asia. In fact, some jade cutters still polish their jade in the traditional manner, using a bamboo lathe, sand and water. Regardless of how the jade is polished, though, it will typically be carved into traditional jewelry shapes for use in settings, though some pieces of jade are carved into stand-alone pieces that need no extra adornment, such as bangles.
Since jade is not measured in carats, but rather millimeters, this “C” in your four “C”s doesn’t enter into the equation. While size can impact the price of a high-quality piece of jadeite that ticks all the right boxes in all other areas of quality, size doesn’t necessarily always matter as much when determining the price of a piece of nephrite jade.
Today, some of the most valuable jadeite is still sourced from China, as well as Myanmar. Up until 2016, the United States had an embargo in place on Myanmar jadeite, though this is no longer a worry for serious collectors.
Should I Buy Jadeite or Nephrite?
It depends on what you want! Both are jade, but they come with their differences.
Both are very hard (though still susceptible to scratching, under the right circumstances), though nephrite is overall more durable. The desirable imperial green hue can only be found in jadeite and jadeite is also more likely to show that desirable semi-transparency. If you’re looking for a piece of jade that meets all of the quality expectations for the gemstone, then go with jadeite.
Do note that jadeite comes with a higher price than nephrite, though, so if you’re looking to add something a little more affordable to your jewelry collection, you might want to opt for nephrite.