Jade bracelets always fascinated me. Long-time ago I work as a tour operator and tour leader in China. It’s a very big country, with many minority cultures besides the Han Chinese. 51 dialects, that differ like English from French. With enormous barriers like the Great Wall, the Yang Tse Kiang river, or the Gobi desert. And still… in every place, I visited women wear bracelets, made of this lovely green gemstone.
How is that possible with all the differences in culture and the impossibilities to meet each other? There must be some connection, and this green stone must be very important to a lot of people. I started a kind of search to discover where this all comes from and my goal was to get ‘No more secrets about these bracelets’:
Around 7.000 BC people in China make already artifacts from this green gemstone, like knives and ax heads. When they discover bronze and iron, the Chinese start to make weapons out of that material and use it only for making jewelry. Archeologists find pieces with a little hole in them for using it as a necklace, and they discover them in graves. The green gem is the symbol for a happy afterlife and the symbol of the 5 virtues of mankind: wisdom, justice, humility, mercy, and courage.
Around 6000 BC people start to mine the gem and from China, the popularity expands to the rest of southeast Asia. Emperor Zhao of the Qin Dynasty promises emperor Huiwen of the Zhao Dynasty 15 fortresses in exchange for a famous piece, called ‘heshibi’. Empress Dowager Cixi owns more than 3.000 jade boxes and every morning she uses it to massage her face. And she receives acupuncture with needles, made of this gem.
The Chinese emperor Qianlong buys in 1745 a big vessel (3500 kilos) made of the green gem from monks. The emperor loves the dark green color of the vessel and orders artisans to cut dragons and leviathans in it. The gem becomes the gemstone of the imperial court from that time on. The Chinese character (Chinese alphabet) for jade is nearly the same character as the sign for the emperor.
Emperor Pu Yi pays his bills with it, but since he is only a child when he becomes emperor, courtiers get more and more power and they steal a lot of the stone and sell it. Mrs. Hui-Lan Koo buys a lot of the imperial pieces of jewelry and sells them to the rich and famous in the world. In this way, this green beauty becomes also popular in the Western world.
What is the value?
In China, a piece of rough jadeite is not worth much: but polished as a piece of jewelry is worth more than gold and diamonds in the Western world. The Chinese people think about it not only as a precious stone but also as a stone that prevents evil powers to enter the body. This gemstone changes in color when it comes in contact with human skin for a longer time. They think that the evil powers go from the body into the jade.
Is it actually jade?
There are two minerals with different specifications, both are gemstones and both are called ‘jade’. In 1873 Mr. Damour discovers that there are actually two gemstones: nephrite and jadeite. The two gemstones are different minerals with the same ‘looks’ and features. The jadeite that is found in China ( around Khotan) is actually nephrite and is also called ‘soft jade’.
You carve in this nephrite easier than in the harder variety, that is found in Myanmar (Burma). Jadeite is as hard as steel and cannot be carved or cut with metal tools; you need machines to labor jadeite. Jadeite (the official name of jade) is not so popular in China. Since the 13th century, the Chinese emperors start to appreciate especially the emerald color jadeite. They called that jadeite, the imperial jade.
Jadeite has many colors, like green, blue, brown, creme, grey, orange, red, purple, white and jadeite can have spots. Nephrite only occurs in the colors brown, green, grey, and white, and also nephrite can have spots or molts. Jadeite and nephrite feel very soft and smooth, like silk, and they have also soft colors. But especially the jadeite is not ‘soft’ at all: you can hardly break it. And it is even harder to break than diamonds.
Chinese women wear nephrite bracelets!
Though China is a very large country, with many cultures and because of the great barriers and it is not so easy for the Chinese to communicate, very many women wear jadeite (and now you know it’s really nephrite) bracelets. They love the light green color or green in combination with white molts.
When you look at history you can explain this phenomenon due to the fact that Chinese emperors have the power over large pieces of land and the exact boundaries change. Since those emperors love this stone and you find nephrite in China, it is more than plausible that the people see jadeite and nephrite as ‘want to have’ items. The popularity is spread over the whole of China by the emperors and their civil servants.
Both green stones are gemstones, that symbolize heaven and eternity. And they have medical power, like stop bleeding and fever, and cure kidney and blatter problems: medical problems that occur a lot with women.
How to wear a jadeite/nephrite bracelet?
Then the practical side of wearing a jadeite/nephrite bracelet: it is a very hard stone and not easy to break. Sure that helps when you wear such a bracelet all the time. When a Chinese woman wants a bracelet she goes to a special bracelet jeweler and he measures the exact size (very tight) so that the bracelet won’t get in the way.
You don’t take the bracelet on and off, because it’s so tight that it is rather painful. And you wear the bracelet on the left arm, which is practical when you have to write (and you are right-handed).
On my trips and travels, I am always curious about jewelry: how women wear it, what kind of colors they combine, what kind of shapes they like. With this knowledge I can design a better piece of jewelry from the gemstone beads I buy on my way.
Well, I hope that you know the difference between jadeite and nephrite now and that you know why so many Chinese women wear jade bracelets. And when you still have questions, you know where to find me! : contact form
In this blog post, we talk about this beautiful green gem and then about the bracelets made of this gemstone. Maybe the Chinese bracelets are too small for you, but there are more types of bracelets. And every bracelet has its own arm on which it looks stunning. But what bracelet makes you look gorgeous? FlorenceJewelshop published an e-book about bracelets, full of tips. It is free of charge. Just let me know where I can send it to.
Hugs, Florence from FlorenceJewelshop