What is jade?

If you've come to any of the pop-ups we do around town, you'll know that we work with jade quite a bit. It is a stone steeped in East Asian cultural heritage.

Below is a repost of an entry I wrote in my other blog www.siamgempalaceblog.com back in 2015 in which I share the main differences between the two minerals, nephrite and jadeite, that fall under the umbrella term 'jade.' This may be helpful to you next time you're in the market to purchase a piece of jade. Enjoy! 

Jade - Nephrite & Jadeite 

Nephrite and jadeite are the two minerals that make up the umbrella term ‘jade.’ For centuries, jadeite and nephrite were considered the same stone. Although jadeite is historically associated with China, it was not introduced to the kingdom until the 18th century by Burmese traders. All jade in China before that point were in fact nephrite.

In 1863, with the advent of more modern techniques of identification, it was discovered that what was collectively known as jade were actually two distinct minerals with different chemical compositions and crystal structures.

 
Left: Sotheby's HK October 5th, 2011 - Lot 2677.PAIR OF JADEITE 'BUDDHA'S PALM' AND DIAMOND PENDENT EARRINGS. Right: A collection of NEPHRITE geometric faceted cabochons. Siam Gem Palace.

 

Nephrite is slightly softer than jadeite. It is 6.0 – 6.5 on the Mohs scale while jadeite is 6.5 – 7.0.  However, this fact probably won’t help you distinguish between the two when you’re ‘in the field’ or in a store. So, what should you look for with your naked eye to tell them apart?

Most of the time, the luster of nephrite is resinous and dull whereas jadeite has more of a glossy / oily appearance. The caveat here is that nephrite can be polished up to a very glossy luster as well. However, nephrite is almost always opaque whereas jadeite has the capacity to be more translucent. While jadeite’s structure is an arrangement of grainy crystals, nephrite is made up of fibrous crystals that interlock in a matted texture. These densely packed and interwoven fibers are extremely resistant to fracturing. So while jadeite is the denser and harder jade, nephrite is actually the tougher of the two.

 
Clockwise: 1) Faberge Carved Nephrite Jade Snail / late 19th century to early 20th century, Russia. V&A Museum. 2) JADEITE BUDDHA CARVING. Sotheby's HK October 5th, 2011 Sale. Lot 2551. 3) Unworked Jadeite Rough. 4) Unworked Nephrite Rough.

 

Nephrite and jadeite have an overlapping range of colors – shades of green, yellow, white, and purple are found in both stones. Translucent white and light yellow nephrite is dubbed mutton fat jade in China while an opaque white to light brown / gray variety is known as chicken bone jade. Currently, the best quality mutton fat jade comes from Khotan (also Hotan or Hetian), China. White mutton fat jade is the most desired type of nephrite jade.

 
Left: M.S. Rau Antiques - Intricate pierced work is showcased in this fine Chinese white mutton fat jade urn. White mutton fat jade is the most desired type of nephrite jade. Jade has been revered in China for thousands of years as a "royal gem." White jade, in particular, is traditionally known as a conductor of positive energy and purity. 19th Century. Right: Sotheby's - A CHICKEN-BONE JADE ARCHAISTIC VESSEL (ZHI) MING DYNASTY, 16TH / 17TH CENTURY of pear shape, supported on a short flared foot, the sides carved with two taotie masks against a geometric ground below a pair of confronting dragons.

 

The rarest and most valuable jadeite is called imperial jade. It has an even and deep saturated green color that rivals fine emeralds. Before the introduction of jadeite into China in the 18th century, the most coveted jade was a translucent white nephrite (mutton fat.)

 
Left: Sotheby's HK April 7th, 2014 - Lot 1847. A Highly Important Jadeite Bead, Ruby and Diamond Necklace, Cartier, circa 1933. Composed of twenty-seven graduated jadeite beads of highly translucent bright emerald green colour, completed by a clasp set with calibré-cut rubies and baguette diamonds, mounted in platinum and 18 karat yellow gold, length approximatel 530mm,unsigned. Beads approximately 19.20 to 15.40mm. Formerly in the collection of Barbara Hutton, Louise Van Allen and the Princess Nina Mdivani. Right: V&A Museum - Wine cup made for the Emperor Shah Jahan (1628-1658), India, white nephrite jade. Museum no. IS.12-1962

 

Jadeite primarily comes from Burma (Myanmar) but there are also deposits in other countries, including Russia, Canada, Japan and the USA. Nephrite deposits are found in China, Burma, New Zealand, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Zimbabwe, Russia, Pakistan and the USA.

 

 

 
Clockwise: 1) JADEITE, NEPHRITE, RUBY AND ONYX 'BRUSH POT', OSTERTAG PARIS, CIRCA 1925. 2)  Lot 2554. PAIR OF JADEITE 'GUAN YIN' AND DIAMOND PENDANTS. Sotheby's HK October 5th, 2011. 3)  Lot 1906. Highly Important Jadeite Bangle. Sotheby's HK April 7th, 2014.

 

Jade is mostly associated with Chinese art and culture. But it has been used by many ancient civilizations like the Egyptians and Mayans as well. In the 19th and early 20th century, nephrite was a favorite material of Peter Carl Fabergé. Incredible pieces of art were created by the workmaster Michael Perchin working under Fabergé including a few of the famed imperial Easter eggs.

The history of nephrite in Russia begins in the 15th century, when it was brought from Central Asia by merchants. First nephrite mine in Russia, in Sayany mountains near the Baikal lake, was found only in the 18th century. Several varieties of Russian nephrite are really unique – for example, there is so-called “Ulan-Khodinskiy” nephrite, which has a color much similar to chrysophrase. Sometimes Russian nephrite has a cat’s eye effect, and this in combination with beautiful green color makes it even more attractive. However, really good cat’s eye nephrite is very rare.

Some stunning objet d'art designed and fabricated by Peter Carl Fabergé, the court jeweller famed for the Easter eggs he created for the Romanov's before the Russian Revolution in 1917:

 

 

FYI, materials that can be confused with jade are chrysoprase, serpentine, maw sit-sit, aventurine.

If you're interested to see the jade we have in stock, please visit here:

http://siamgempalace.com/collections/jade

For further reading:

www.nytimes.com/2010/09/21/world/asia/21jade.html?_r=0

www.gia.edu/gia-news-research-largest-jadeite-carving-lucas

www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/w/shah-jahans-jade-cup/

www.jewelsdujour.com/2014/03/sothebys-magnificent-jewels-jadeite-hong-kong-april-7th-2014/