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 wearing bracelets, made of jade.
In the temples and large buildings, the statues were made of… jade. It seems that this gem is very important in Chinese society.
Then I visited Mexico and traveled through Guatemala and there I saw the same fascination for this green gemstone as in China. And China and South America are quite a few miles apart, but this gem is so popular and appreciated.
This was not all, also in New Zealand and even in Burma (now Myanmar), I met this gem as one of the most important and most used gemstones in the country. The color was a bit different, the way of using the green gem too, but what is the vibe of jade? In all those countries, spread all over the world?
1 or 2… 5 jades?
If you see a green bracelet, and you think it is made of jade, the first thing that you have to ask yourself… OK, but from what variety? Did I already mention that this stone is confusing, very confusing?
The green gemstone was mined in China and became very popular and therefore was rather expensive. Not only in China, but also in Burma/Myanmar this stone was mined, and they looked a bit different.
In 1863 a French mineralogist, Alexis Damour, analyzed the Chinese and the Burmese variety of this stone and discovered that they were not the same. From then on the Chinese variety is called nephrite and the Burmese variety as jadeïte, members or varieties of the same gemstone. But a little different.
The largest difference is that nephrite is more fibrous, and this stone does not break that easily, unlike its sister gem. Nephrite is a build-up of fibers and jadeïte of crystals. The higher the amount of iron in nephrite the greener the gemstone.
And there are some more differences between the two:
- Jadeïte has a hardness between 6 and 7 on Moh’s scale, and nephrite is a bit softer. The advantage is that you can cut or work with nephrite using quartz (somewhat harder than the 5-6 on Moh’s scale for nephrite) or sand made of garnets, and you can polish it with bamboo.
- Nephrite is tougher and more resistance to breaking it.
Well, I warned you… confusing stone, since the two mentioned varieties were not the only ones. Mineralogists discovered more member gems of the same family. The most important three are albite jadeïte, which is light green. Then chloromelanite with a moss green to green-black color. And the maw-sit-sit variety, called after the place in Burma where it is mined, and this one is light to grass green with black spots and stripes.
Oef… and I did not count the mixture between nephrite and jadeïte, called African jade. Traders make a mess of it and call all varieties ‘jade’ and all look-alikes too. Aventurine is sold as ‘India-jade’, Vesuvian gets the name ‘California-jade’, Carnelian becomes ‘red-jade’, serpentine as ‘Chinese-jade’, and Rhodonite is called by those traders ‘red Beijing-jade’.
Treating or enhance the gemstone
It is possible that the green stone you want to purchase is treated, enhanced, or stabilized. All terms for improving this gem. Some traders decide to do this to improve the color or the quality or the texture. There are 3 methods (or types) of improving the stone:
- Type A: the stone is not treated, except some wax on the surface
- Type B: treatment to improve the transparency and color, especially for a good, but stained piece of gem. They bleach the stone and impregnate it with polymer resin
- Type C: the gem has been dyed or artificially stained. The effects are uncontrollable, so they don’t use high-quality gems for this treatment, and you lose the translucency
- Type B/C: the stone is impregnated and dyed or artificially stained
- Type D: the gem is conformed into a doublet, with on top an piece of jade and a plastic backing.
This gemstone is very old
In about 11.000 years BC (in the New Stone Age) people used utensils, like knives and axes, made of jade. It was a very popular material to make weapons from. In the Iron Age, the material to make weapons changed into iron and bronze. The jade weapons stayed popular, but are now used in rituals.
Archeologists found a lot of jewelry, beads, and small shapes with a grommet, made of this green stone.
Around 7.000 BC people in China make already artifacts from this green gemstone, like knives and ax heads. 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.
Only for the Emperor
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 it 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.
The Chinese jade is actually nephrite and is considered to be the ‘imperial’ gem. Many ritual items were made of this stone, just as decorative objects for the house, temple, or palace.
The nephrite was mined in West China near Khotan in Xinjiang, but the white and greenish small boulders of nephrite were found in the rivers too, especially in Yarkand. Where ever the stone was found, the best (white) jade, had to be delivered with the Emperor, as a yearly tribute payment or otherwise.
It was worth more than silver or gold, and even diamonds. In 2010 the Chinese middle class started to grow and also they wanted to buy this gemstone or jewelry made of jade. At that time the price went up until $3000 per ounce.
Mexico and Guatemala
In the great empires of the Maya people (300-900 AD) or the Aztecs (1200-1500 AD) in Mexico and Guatemala, the green stone represented years of luck, prosperity, long life, and immortality. Jade was a gemstone especially for the rich and famous people because also in this part of the world the green gem was popular and expensive.
Rich deceased people got very precious jewelry and objects of carved figurines and signs in their graves, made of this gem. The nephrite and the jadeïte were found here and used as healing objects for problems with blatter and kidneys.
In the 16th century, the Spanish conquerors took this gemstone to Europe and it got famous there too.
On the other end of the world, in New Zealand, this gem was loved and important for the people too. Here they find nephrite, what is called greenstone or pounamu here. For many centuries the tribes in New Zealand made weapons and jewelry out of it. And it was used as a kind of money while trading.
In the traditions of the Maor’s, the First Nation people here the nephrite was used to make jewelry, that was passed on from generation to generation.
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.
We talked already about the hardness, and the difference between the two varieties was so significant, that people in China called the Nephite the soft jade and the jadeïte the hard jade.
In this blog, the green color is mentioned quite a few times. And that green-colored gem was not appreciated by the Chinese emperors until the 13the century. The special emerald-colored jadeïte was called since then the ‘imperial jade’.
But this gemstone has so many colors, and not only green. Jadeite can be blue, brown, gray, creme, orange, red, and white too. And it can have spots, just like the nephrite. Nephrite occurs in fewer colors, brown, green, gray, and white.
You can recognize this stone by its greasy surface with little black spots (although you have high-quality jade without them). It is the national stone of China, ánd of the American federal states of Alaska, California, and Wyoming. In New Zealand, this gem is also the national stone, but there it is called ‘greenstone’. And same goes for Myanmar or Burma, where you can find it under the name of the place where it is found, Maw-sit-sit.
Another very practical feature is that this gemstone is a cleaning and protective stone against injury. It ensures harmony and stability and attracts prosperity and happiness. With this gem, you are able to leave all negativity in your thoughts and emotions.
The name of this stone comes from the Spanish word ‘piedra de ijada’ or ‘stone for the loins’. It was well-known as a cure for kidney ailments. But at the time it was thought that the kidneys were located on the side of the back, just below the rib cage. Wrong spot, and maybe the wrong name, and is the New Zealand name ‘green stone’ better.
More or less 70% of the high-quality jadeïte is mined in Myanmar. From there it is transported to other Asian countries for cutting and jewelry making. The best quality you can find in the North of Myanmar, in Kachin land, is the Maw-sit-sit variety. It is not that easy to mine there. Some of them are already exhausted and the region is not politically stable.
Chinese women wear nephrite bracelets!
As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, the first time that jade intrigued me, was when I was working in China. At first, I only saw the green bracelets of the Chinese ladies. But later on, when I spend more time in this huge country I also saw that statues and all kinds of objects are made of this popular stone.
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