WHAT MAKES JADE VALUABLE?
Jade has been revered by many cultures for its beauty, durability, and its presumed metaphysical properties, which include the ability to manifest various aspects of spirituality, as well as heal both the body and mind.
The word Jade originally comes from the the Spanish expression, “piedra de ijada” which literally translates to “the stone of the side pain”, as Jade is believed by cultures in Central America for possessing restorative and cathartic qualities, particularly the digestive organs. The French translated this to “pierre de l’éjade”, eventually interpreted simply as “jade” in English. In China, Jade is popularly associated with several auspicious aspects of spirituality such as luck, fortune, prosperity, and success, which are characterized by carvings of representative symbols.
Though Jade is strongly associated with China, the gem is not a native material to the country at all; rather it is sourced mainly from Myanmar and Central America. There are two common types of Jade — Jadeite and Nephrite. They are both derivative of a mineral which arises from particular metamorphic conditions within rocks and pebbles that have been affected by erosional force. Though they bear similarities in appearance, the two are almost entirely different in scientific composition and origin. They are almost never found near each other, and require completely different environmental conditions in order to form. (4)
Nephrite is a member of the tremolite-actinolate minerals family, which is part of a greater species called amphiboles which generally grow as prism-shaped formations consisting mainly of iron and magnesium. Jadeite on the other hand is a member of the Pyroxene family and requires extremely high temperatures in order to form, which is why it can be found in many volcanic regions of the world. Jadeite comes in a variety of colors, including greens, yellows, pinks, and reds, while Nephrite is typically dark green and black. (1) Though both are commonly used in jewelry, sculpture, and tools, Jadeite is unquestionably higher in value for reasons involving color, transparency, texture, and cut. (3)
An example of Chinese Imperial jade with a gilt bronze stand, Qing Dynasty, Qianlong period (1736–95). © Art & Antiques Worldwide Media, LLC
Jade comes in a plethora of colors, but the very thought of it brings to mind a vibrant green color. This is because the green color is the most familiar to consumers. In ancient China, a specific type of green Jadeite known as “Imperial Jade” was once exclusive to the royal court in China, and continues to this day to be the most valuable kind of Jadeite one can possibly possess. Lavender Jade is also highly desirable as it possesses an intense and attractive hue. (3)
Jadeite is further evaluated on its level of transparency which is assessed by seeing how it interacts with light. By examining the stone with several different light sources, an expert will be able to see how even the coloration of the Jade is, as well as look out for any internal fractures, cloudiness, or surface imperfections which could affect value. Though Jadeite can range from being opaque to semitransparent, typically the highest valued Jade is semitransparent, in that one can see through it but not completely clear like glass. Clarity and transparency is arguably more important than consistency in color.
Depending on the Jade itself, the texture can range from very fine to very coarse which is varied by the size of the crystals which form it. A fine grained jadeite contains high luster as well as a very smooth texture, making it more valuable than jade with inconsistency in texture. A fine-grained jade implies that it is also resistant to wear and tear. For example, many ancient civilizations used tools made of Jade because of their durability.
According to the Gemological Institute of America, a cabochon is the most popular cut for Jadeite in terms of jewelry. These cabochons are judged by their weight and symmetry. Also made popular by the Chinese are jade bangles, which are perceived to provide protection and prosperity to its wearer. A jade bangle’s value is assessed by whether or not it is made up of several pieces or one solid piece of jade, also called a ‘hololith’. The image on the left shows an example of a multi-piece bangle, in which the bangle is composed of two pieces of jade held together by precious metal hinges.
It is important to be aware of fraudulent and artificial jade. There are also many stones which may look like jade (like emerald) but are in fact different in both composition and value. Because many precious stones may look very similar, it is best to seek an expert opinion of a jewelry appraiser, who can both assess the genuinity of the stone and the value based on the aforementioned aspects.
Written by Alana Voldman, MA, Research Assistant
Farhad Radfar, ISA, AM
Desautels, Paul E., and Lee Boltin, The Gem Kingdom, New York: Random House, 1976.
“Jade Buying Guide”, eBay, accessed September 20, 2016, http://www.ebay.com/gds/Jade-Buying-Guide-/10000000177628091/g.html.
“Jadeite Jade Quality Factors”, GIA, accessed September 20, 2016, http://www.gia.edu/jade-quality-factor.
Jade: A Beautiful and Durable Material of Nephrite or Jadeite, Geology.com, accessed September 20, 2016, http://geology.com/gemstones/jade/.