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Jade Gemstones - Jadeite & Nephrite


Jade is a rock that is commonly used for ornamental purposes. The name is applied to two different rock, of metamorphic origin, made of two different silicates.

Jadeite · This is a sodium-aluminum-silicate that is classified as a pyroxene. The form of the rock is a microcrystalline interweaved crystal matrix.

Nephrite · This is a tremolite, which can be described as a calcium magnesium ferroactinolite. The form of the rock is a microcrystalline interweaved fibrous matrix. This has a higher content of iron, and therefore has a pronounced green color.

Etymology of jade

Jade is an English name that was derived from the French word L´ejade, and Latin ilia, which both refer to the flanks or loins. It was also connected to the Spanish term piedra de ijada, which means "loin stone" which comes from the fact that it was used to clear ailments of the loins and kidneys. The name Nephrite was derived from the Latin version of piedra de ijada, lapis nephriticus.

An overview

Nephrite and jadeite are gems that were used during the prehistoric period to make carvings. Jadeite is a hard stone with equal hardness to quartz, and nephrite is softer, but tougher, meaning that it does not break easily. The tow stones were assumed to be one and the same, but in the 19th century, a French mineralogist by the name of Alexis Damour, made the difference and declared that the two stones were in fact different.

Simple ornaments having button, bead and tubular shapes are among the first items that have been dug up from prehistoric sites. Jade was also used to make knives, adze heads and other types of weapons, all of which can be delicately shaped. When metal was discovered and used to make these weapons and knives the use of jade turned more towards making ornamental items. The hardness of jadeite is between 6 and 7 on the Mohs scale and nephrite has a hardness of between 6.0 and 6.5. Nephrite is quite soft and can be worked using quartz, garnet sand, and then polished using ground jade or bamboo.

The unusual varieties of jade gemstones

Nephrite is found in a creamy white formation, which is China is also called mutton fat jade. It is also found in a various shades of green. Jadeite has a lot more variations than nephrite, and can be found in emerald green, pink, lavender-mauve and blue colors. Of the two gemstones, jadeite is less common, and can only be found in less than a dozen places all over the world. The most prized type of jade is the translucent emerald green jadeite. The Mesoamerican cultures treasured the bright green jadeite that came from Guatemala, also known as quetzal jade. The post-1800 Chinese imperial rulers and aristocrats used to treasure the vivid green jade rocks, which came from Burma, and were also known as kingfisher jade.

Today, the principal sources of green jadeite are Burma, or Myanmar, and Guatemala. Jade formed as a huge layer of dark green serpentine, in the areas of Myitkina and Mogaung, which are in the upper districts of Burma, and have been mined and exported for over a century. Canada is the main source of gemstone quality nephrite. Nephrite jade was popular in China, before the year 1800, as well as the Pacific Coast, New Zealand, The Atlantic Coast, Neolithic Europe and also South East Asia. The Japanese and European cultures also used a lot of jadeite in the ornamental creations.

The historical occurrence of jade

In China

During Neolithic times, the main source of nephritic jade in China, for purposes of making items, and performing ceremonies, was the deposits in the Ningshao areas of the Yangtze River Delta, but these deposits have since been depleted. They were also found in Inner Mongolia, and the Liaoning Province. As early as 6000 BC, Dushan Jade was being mined in these areas. There were Dushan Jade ornaments that were dug up from the Yin ruins of the Shang dynasty, which existed between 1600 and 1050 BC. At the time, jade was used for carrying out ceremonies and also creating utilitarian objects. You could find jade burial suits and indoor items made during this period. In fact, jade was highly valued to the point that it was referred to as an imperial gemstone.

Since the early day, until today most jade used in China came from the Khotan area in Xinjiang, a western China province, Lantian and Shaanxi. In this area, white and light green jade was found as small pebbles and boulders in small quarries. These were located along the rivers which flowed from the Kuen Lun Mountains, which are found east of the Takla-Makan desert. River jade was highly concentrated in the Yarkland; this was in the White Jade, or Yurunkash, and Black Jade or Karakash, Rivers.

On the Southern leg of the Silk Road, from the kingdom of Khota, tributes were made every year to the Chinese Imperial Court, consisting of white jade, which was worked into objets d´art, by skilled artisans; at the time, jade was a value and status that exceeded that of silver or gold. Chinese scholars also loved making objects out of jade; objects such as supports for calligraphy brushes and also mouthpieces which were used on opium pipes; they believed that taking in opium smoke using these mouthpieces would allow them to breathe in longer life.

It is only after the year 1800 that bright emerald-green, lavender, pink, brown and orange-colored jade was imported into China from Burma. The vivid green jade was christened Feicui, or the feathered jade known as kingfisher jade. The Qing Dynasty aristocrats loved this jade, and it became as popular as nephrite. Scholars on the other hand, preferred to use the white jade, also known as Khotan, which is a nephrite; they believed that the white color symbolized nobility.

Just as gold and diamonds were valued in the western world, jade was the priced gemstone on ancient China and was used to make valuable pieces of art. It was used to make cult figurines, and fine art objects; it was also used to bury those who were regarded as noble in society. Due to the rich history of white jade, you can get it at a price of 3,000 dollars per ounce in China.

In India

There is a 5 foot tall, sculpture of Mahavira in India, made entirely out of jade, which is kept in the Jain temple of Kolanpak in the Nalgonda District, Andhra Pradesh. This is famed as the biggest sculpture in the world that has ever been made from a single jade rock. India has also had a rich tradition of using false jade or serpentine, which came from Afghanistan, to make their ornamental objects and jewelry.

In Korea

Between the years of 850 BC and ^88 Ad, there was a long-standing tradition in Korea for using jade and other types of green stones to make their jewelry and ornamental items. During the Middle Munum Pottery Period, of the years 850 to 550 BC, There was a tradition of making small comma-shaped and tubular "jades" from jade, microcline, jasper and other green gemstones. One can find the green comma-shaped jades on the gold crowns of Silla royalty, who ruled from about 300 or 400 BC to 668 AD. They can also be found in the luxurious burial sites of the Korean Three Kingdoms. The Korean Peninsula was united by the state of Silla in 8668 AD, and the death rituals of Buddhists reduced the use of jade in burial ceremonies.

In South East Asia

Two forms of jade been uncovered by archeologists in various sites stretching from Taiwan, through the Philippines, East Malaysia, Southern and Central Vietnam, and all the way to eastern Cambodia and the Thailand peninsular. These are the animal-headed ear pendant and the linling-o penannlar earing which has three pointed projections around the circumference. These are usually of the same size measuring between 30 and 35 mm in diameter. Carbon dating has placed these pendants as having been made in South East Asia between 500 BC and 500 AD. It has been determined through microanalysis with an electron probe that the material used to make these pendants was a nephrite jade from Taiwan called Fengtian nephrite. After analyzing artefacts from several sites in the Philippines, Taiwan, and the mainland South East Asia, it has been found that most of the jade used was sourced from Taiwan. It is said that during the Iron Age, there were skilled artisans who used to travel from Taiwan and through South East Asia, wh
o used to make jade items for people, in exchange for the precious iron.

In New Zealand

In New Zealand, nephrite jade also goes by the name of Pounamu, which is the Maori word for greenstone. This jade is very important in Maori culture and is considered to be a treasure or Taonga, and is protected by the Treaty of Waitangi. The exploitation of jade is regulated and monitored closely. Jade only occurs in the South Island of New Zealand, which goes by the names of Te Wai Pounamu, which means The Land of Greenstone Water in Maori and Te Wahi Pounamu, which means The Place of Greenstone.

There were tools, ornaments and weapons which were made out of jade, more notably, the short club known as an adze, and the Heitiki, which was a pendant worn around the neck. The stone was believed to have a special manna and was handed down generations as an heirloom. Locals and tourists still treasure jewelry that is made of nephrite jade, but some of the jade used comes from British Columbia and other places.

In Canada

In 1886, Chinese settlers who came to British Columbia were the first ones to identify jade in the area. They had been searching for gold, since the value of jade had dropped in China. In Canada, jade was only commercialized in the 1970s for this very reason. Two Californians stared a business by the name of Loex James, which stated mining and exporting jade commercially from Canada.

In Mesoamerica

In the pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, jade was rare and valued, and the only deposits were found in certain cultures such as Olmec and Maya, who would get it from the Guatemalan river valley of Motagua. Jade was a commodity that was reserved for the elite in society, and was carved to make various items. Jade was used as a medium for inscribing hieroglyphics, or turned into symbolic figurines.

The mining of jade

Large boulders which contain jade rock are drilled using diamond-tipped core drills, to extract samples rich in jade. This is necessary so that the miners know whether the jade is of the required quality before they start excavating it. Once the jade is found, huge hydraulic spreaders are used to breaks open the rock through cleavage points, and the jade is removed. Once the jade is removed it is broken down to form 10 ton boulders which are then transported by trucks to storage areas ready for export or working.

The enhancement of Jade

The enhancement of jade is also called stabilizing, and this process leads to the formation of graded jade; the grades are used by merchants to determine the value. The color and texture of jade is not affected by the treatment.

  • Type A jade is the one that has not been treated at all, and only the surface is waxed
  • Type B jade is the one that has promising parts of the rock exposed to chemical acids and bleaches and then the interior is impregnated using clear polymer resin. This is a treatment that enhances the transparency and color of the gemstone. Today the presence of polymer resin is detected using infrared spectroscopy.
  • Type C jade is the one that has been dyed or stained artificially. There is no way to predict the results of such treatment, and sometimes dull brown stones are the result; this leads to the loss of translucency.
  • Type B+C jade is the one that has undergone impregnations as well as artificial coloring.
  • Type D jade is that made of composite stones, referred to as a doublet, which has a jade top and black base.
The myth of jade

This is a gemstone that is associated with energy and from this comes a host of myths about it. It has a lot of beauty and it is very expressive, and has therefore, held a lot of fascination for men for several centuries. For over 7,000 years man has revered this green gemstone, which also comes in white, orange, black, grey and violet tones, which has a greasy luster. It was also valued for its tough nature by prehistoric man, who used it to make weapons and tools. In China, from as early as 3,000 BC, jade was known as the "Yu" or "Royal" gemstone. In the Chinese empire, jade was used to make several works of art, and was used to make grave furnishings for the dead; it was also used to make cult figurines and household items. To this day, jade is highly regarded as a symbol of that which is precious, beautiful and good. In Confucian tomes, it was made to symbolize justice compassion courage modesty and wisdom. It is also used to symbolize the erotic female. You can only grasp the significance of this rock to the people of Asia when you visit the Hong Kong jade auctions organized by Christie´s or at any jade market in Rangoon or Hong Kong.

During the Pre-Columbian period, the Olmec, Aztecs, and Mayas of Central America honored and valued jade much more than gold. In New Zealand, the Maoris used to make weapons and tools from this stone, which is a tradition that they carry on to this very day. In Egypt, jade has always been regarded as a stone of love, harmony, balance and inner peace. There are many other cultures which considered jade to be a stone that brought god luck and protected the wearer from evil, but it is in Asia that the stone was truly revered. This reverence came from the fact that people in this region knew a lot more about the value of the gemstone. However, today, as more people, including gemstone connoisseurs, get to know more about jade, the value of the stone as a gemstone has increased considerably. It has a wide range of colors and luster and it is now held in high esteem all over the world.

The processing of jade

In Canton, Hong Kong and Beijing, jade cutters use Carborundum and diamond powder to process raw jade material. Jade, as a rule, is not a transparent gemstone, but has a great luster, therefore most jewelry is cut into cabochons. Thin slivers are also fashioned into carved pendants, and jade bracelets. The round, cylindrical and flat shapes are also mixed to come up with fascinating necklaces. It is traditional for jade to be processed into thin-walled vessels, filigree images and slim figurines, which are mistakenly called jade carvings. The unwanted material is first removed and then the real jade is used to make all these items. It is after polishing that you can truly see the difference between jadeite and nephrite. Polished nephrite has a resinous or greasy luster, while that of jadeite seems to shine like a mirror.

What is considered to be good quality jade?

Jade is a fascinating gemstone for both collectors and jewelry connoisseurs, above all, it is valued as an antique gemstone in Asia. Religion and faith, apart from the quality of the gem and how it is processed play a great role in determining the value of jade. In western countries, most people use jade to make snuff boxes, small bowls and rind, as well as cigarette holders. Each buyer or collector has his or her own preferences and since the stone can be made into various items, it is very difficult to give an all-round assessment as to what constitutes good jade.

Jade, today, is considered to be a wonderful gem, both in its traditional guise and also in modern designs. In recent times gemstone and jewelry producers has developed wonderful creations using jade, thereby increasing the aesthetic value of the stone, which for a long time was only important as a traditional gemstone

Speaking in general terms, the value of jade relies a lot on the color, as well at its intensity; the texture and vivacious nature if the stone, together with its transparency and clarity are also important. The liking of the colors varies from one region to the other and from one culture to the next. There are seven different qualities that are given to green jade alone, by connoisseurs of the gemstone. These are intense green, imperial green, apple green and spinach green. Others are emerald green and the lighter versions of the color. It is hard to draw definite lines between these qualities, since they seem to blend into one another.

In Europe and the United States of America, apple green, emerald green and spinach green are the most sought-after colors. In the Far East, the white, yellow and delicate pink nuances are the ones that are valued highly. The emerald green, which is very rare and also called the imperial jade is the most valued jade color ever.

It is advisable to buy jade from reputable dealers and jewelers, since it is not only genuine and good quality jade that is on sale, but also those poor qualities which have been treated and enhanced, and an inexperienced eye cannot tell the difference.

Jade is said to combine symbolic energy and beauty, in both traditional and modern designs in a harmonious manner. In gemstone therapy, jade is said to stimulate mental capacity and creativity on one hand, while also bringing about balance and harmony to the wearer. This is therefore a gemstone that will bring both happiness and vivacity at the same time; given the stress of daily living in today´s world, what more would you want from this gemstone.

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