The Stone of Heaven: An Introduction to Jade

| 4 min read

A gemstone steeped in lore and legend, Jade is a historic jewel that’s been set into jewellery for thousands of years.


Jade is often identified by his vibrant green hue

Jade, as determined by French minerologist Alexis Damour in the 19th century, is in fact two different gemstones: Nephrite and Jadeite. Both materials can correctly be referred to as Jade, and both are metamorphic rocks made of small mineral crystals that, like Diamond, form from deep pressure under the Earth’s surface. The crystals interlock together, ensuring the toughness of both gemstones and making them perfect for ornaments and jewellery.

Jade is a heavy component in East Asian and South Asian art, and in China a pierced Jade disc is considered a ‘symbol of heaven’. However, despite its strong Asian heritage, the word Jade is thought to have come from the Spanish phrase ‘piedra de ijada’, meaning ‘stone of the sides’.

But how do we define what is Nephrite and what is Jadeite? Is there a difference between the two?


Nephrite and Jadeite both fall under the Jade umbrella

Until 1863, Nephrite and Jadeite were considered the same gem – but there are actually a few subtle differences that set the two apart from each other.

Aside from their colour, the main visible difference is that Jadeite is much more sought after than Nephrite, and is one of the oldest gemstones in the world. Jadeite is formed in a similar way to Diamonds and is buried beneath immense heat and pressure, before coming to the surface following erosion or a shift in tectonic plates. This intense pressure is what makes Jadeite so strong.

Nephrite is formed in the same way, however it is not exposed to as much pressure and is therefore slightly softer. Both stones are fit for daily wear, but Jadeite is considerably more durable and retrieves a higher level of commercial value because of this.

Another difference between the two stones is where they’re located. The largest and most profitable source of Jadeite comes from Burma (now Myanmar), and Burmese Jadeite is arguably the most desirable variety in the world. However, Nephrite grows naturally closer to the Earth’s surface, so deposits of this gem can be found in multiple areas around the world from New Zealand to Zimbabwe.


Jade comes in many colours such as white, red and purple

You're most likely aware of the vibrant green colour of Jade, which is due to the presence of chromium inside the gem. Jade in this enchanting colour is often referred to as Imperial Jade.

Jadeite, however, comes in pretty much every colour of the rainbow. Aside from various greens, the mineral can appear in yellow, red, white, grey and black, and the colour is often streaked which gives a unique visible texture that skilled carvers love to play with.

Nephrite can also appear in black and multiple shades of green, as well as translucent white to light yellow, which is sometimes referred to as Mutton Fat Jade. Both minerals are usually opaque to translucent.


The finest Jade variety comes from Burma, now Myanmar

As it’s only been discovered in a few places around the world, Jadeite is the rarest of the two minerals under the Jade umbrella.

As we said before, Myanmar produces the finest variety of Jadeite in the world; so, if you’re looking for a fabulous piece of Jadeite, Burmese Jadeite is the one to look out for.

Also, China has always had a great admiration for Jadeite, and it remains the world’s strongest market for the stone today. In fact, it was the Chinese who created the world-famous Jade carvings in the late 1600s, and they often sacrificed beautiful Diamonds to make carving tools for their precious Jade.

Deposits of both Nephrite and Jadeite can be found in China and Russia, with Nephrite also being sourced from Australia and parts of Africa and South America.


Jade carvings have been widely sought after for thousands of years

Gemstones are as old as time, and many have gained stories regarding their legend, lore and healing properties. There’s no evidence to suggest that these healing properties are real, but it’s an interesting topic that is worthy of further discussion.

Although not scientifically proven, Chinese doctors as far back as 500AD believed that finely ground Jade would pass through the digestive system and relieve various ailments including heartburn and diabetes. They would prescribe it to be mixed into juices, and believed the drink would be absorbed by the body for the patient to receive the benefits.

Aside from consuming the gemstone, it was also said that wearing Jade bangles and bracelets could protect you from illnesses. As a result, carved Jade bracelets remain popular in China even to this day.

Jade jewellery is considered to be a symbol of protection

The sheer level of myth and wonder that surrounds Jade is remarkable; it’s a gemstone that consistently captures our fascination, and one that we’d always recommend adding to your collection.

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