Jade - a comprehensive guide

Jade is a very unique and distinct looking gemstone that has been prized since ancient times.

The beautiful word jade comes from the Spanish piedra de la ijada meaning the ‘the stone of the colic’ as the ancient Mayans and Aztecs believed that jade could cure pain in the sides of the body. Throughout history, jade has had a very special place in Chinese culture and is called ‘yu’ meaning ‘royal gem’. 

Because it is a stone that is in so much demand, there are pitfalls to avoid when purchasing your own. Keep reading for everything you need to know about jade to help you buy and maintain your own piece.

What is jade?

Jadeite mineral stone close up with reflection on black surface background

Jadeite mineral stone close up

What we refer to as jade is actually two separate gemstones.These two gemstones are jadeite and nephrite mineral, which up until the mid-1800s was considered to be the same stone. Today, although both stones are still considered to be jade, they are recognized as having distinct properties and uses.

From the two, jadeite is rarer, more expensive and found in a range of beautiful colors.

Nephrite, on the other hand, is typically found in green, yellow and white, with some varieties being red. It has a waxier, oily appearance than jadeite.

Nephrite is commonly found and therefore more affordable. However, nephrite is slightly tougher than jadeite as its structure is denser.jadeite-vs-nephrite

Jade is found in many regions around the world. While jadeite is found mainly in North America and Western Canada, nephrite can be commonly found in China, Russia and New Zealand.

How do I evaluate jade?

Not all jade is created equal and so it can be difficult to find high quality jade on the market. The best jade is translucent, vibrant in color and smooth to the touch. When evaluating jade, the most important aspects to consider are color, transparency and texture.

Evaluating the color of jade

Color is the most important quality and value indicator of jade. Although the word jade is almost synonymous with the word green, in actuality jade occurs in a range of rainbow colors as well as black and white.

Jadeite color range

source: GIA

Needless to say, the most valuable and coveted jade is a specific shade of green, also called imperial jade. This is one of the most expensive gemstones and is highly sought after. Some other valued green shades are kingfisher jade, apple jade and moss-in-snow jade.

After green, lavender jade is the second most valuable, with black, orange and red jade also being popular.

When choosing your jade, look for strong vivid colors. The color of the jade should be vibrant and lively. You should also ensure that you view the stone under artificial and natural light.

Evaluating the transparency of your jade

Jade is found in opaque to semi-transparent varieties. This is what gives jade its special look and distinguishes it from other green gemstones.

The most valuable type of jade is semi-transparent, giving it a slightly blurry look. When light reaches into such jade, it goes deep within the stone giving it a glowing appearance.

Completely opaque jade is not desirable, and neither is completely transparent. Jade with patchy transparency, where some parts of the stone are cloudy, is also not very desirable.

Evaluating the clarity and texture of jade

Jadeite is smooth and soft to the touch. Its texture is enticing making you want to feel it. What contributes to this texture is the size and hardness of the crystals that make the stone. Jade is composed of minute crystals that interlock densely as the stone forms.

Jade can be found with three main crystal sizes – fine, medium and coarse. The best texture is fine-grained jade. These stones have a smooth feel and very high luster.

Choosing your jade cut

Jade is a versatile stone that can be cut and carved into all shapes and forms. Because of its fine-grained crystal structure it is easy to cut and does not break, crack or chip while cutting.

Jade Bangle Isolated On White Background

Bangles carved from a single piece of jade, known as hololiths

The best quality jade is usually cut into cabochons and used in jewelry. These cabochons are often not calibrated in order to make the most of the jade rough and gain the highest yield.

Sometimes a single piece of jade rough is used to create an entire piece of jewelry. These are called hololiths and include bangles and rings. Jade hololith jewelry is often very costly because a lot of wastage of the rough occurs during the cutting process.

Jade is often used for ornamental carvings. The Chinese also have various popular cuts and designs for jade that hold special meaning for them.

Choosing the size and weight of your jade

Because jade is a very dense gemstone, it is much heavier than most other stones. A jade stone of the same size as a diamond, for example, would be much heavier than the diamond. This is why jade (and most other colored gemstones) is measured in millimetres and not in carats.

Jade can be found in all sizes, although high quality jade is rare.

The price and value of jade

The price of jade has increased exponentially over the past several years. Experts attribute this giant hike in price to the economic boom in China over the past decade. With this prosperity, the demand for jade has exceeded the supply, causing prices to sky rocket. In some cases, the value of jade has surpassed that of gold.

With this being said, the price of jade depends on its quality. Jadeite is more expensive while nephrite is a more affordable choice.

When choosing the highest quality jade, a small increase in size can raise the price of the stone dramatically. However, this is not the case with nephrite.

Often, the price of jade can increase around the time of Chinese New Year and other similar Chinese festivals. It is a good idea to avoid buying at these times.

How durable is jade?

Jade is an incredibly tough stone, and this is one reason it has been so highly valued! It is generally able to withstand damage, and does not break easily.

In fact, in the jewelry industry, there is a saying that if you hit a piece of jade with a hammer, it will ring like a bell! As we mentioned above, the interlocking pattern of the tiny grains as the stone forms is what gives it its outstanding toughness.

While it only ranks at 6 to 7 on the Mohs scale, jade is quite scratch resistant and high quality jade is excellent in jewelry for daily wear.

Are there jade enhancements or treatments?

Most jade on the market undergoes many treatments to enhance its color. This can affect the stability of the stone and reduce its toughness.

When choosing jade, there are three grades to consider:

Type A – This type of jade is natural and has had no artificial treatments. However, its luster may be enhanced by giving it a waxy coat. This does not affect the stone in anyway. Type A jade is dyed or fracture-filled and exhibits its real color.

Type B – This refers to jade that may have been bleached to remove pigmentation and coated or filled. When jade is bleached, it becomes porous and easier to break. To combat that, polymer fillers are used to improve the jade’s stability. However, treatments can cause the stone to be unstable and reduces its toughness. Even so, Type B jade still has its natural, true color.

Type C – This refers to jade that has undergone many treatments such as bleaching, fracture filling and dying.  Over time, the color of Type C jade can fade exposure to heat and the stone is often not stable.

When buying jade, ensure that your jeweler discloses this information to you. Needless to say, Type A jade is the most expensive and also the most durable. It is perfect for engagement rings and other high ticket pieces of jewelry.

Are there jade imitations on the market?

Due to jade being a highly coveted, rare and expensive gemstone, there are many imitations on the market. It is important to be able to tell if your jade is genuine or a fake. The best way to do this is to have a certified expert check the stone for you.

However, there are some tests that you can do to check if your stone is authentic:

  • The scratch test – Scratch the stone with your fingernail. Check if it leaves a mark. You can take this a step further and use a sharp object such as the end of a pair of scissors or a nail. Gently scratch the jade and look to see if there is a scratch. If yes, it is likely that it isn’t genuine jade.

When doing this test, ensure that you scratch a part of the stone that isn’t generally visible. Be careful when doing this test as you may damage your jade.

  • The temperature test - Real jade does not heat up quickly. Hold your stone in your hand and see if it quickly warms up. It should feel cold, heavy and smooth in your hand.
  • Density check – Both jadeit and nephrite have high density levels, meaning that jade is heavier than most other stones. One way to check density is by throwing the stone up into the air and catching it. Feel its weight. Does it feel heavier than another stone of similar size? If it is suspiciously light, it is likely that the stone is not genuine.

Jade in jewelry

The vivid color of jade is full of vitality and bursting with personality. It energizes any wardrobe and ads a pop of color to neutrals.

Small stud earrings, dainty pendants and tasteful rings can be the perfect addition to any outfit for casual or workwear.

For a more dressed up look, jade cocktail rings and statement pendants can be stunning and eye catching. The secret is to coordinate the color with your outfit for the best look.Green jade statement necklace

Nephrite jade statement necklace. Image taken from pinterest.

Should I buy a jade engagement ring?

If want a non-traditional engagement ring, jade can be a good gemstone choice for you. A jade engagement ring has a classic, vintage look. The vibrant green color and the lustrous oily polish of this tone is unique and eye-catching.

Jade looks beautiful mounted in any colored setting. Setting the jade in silver or white gold settings gives the piece a modern look. Pair with diamonds for the perfect balance in brilliance and color. The contrast of the green against the white creates a stunning and edgy look.

For a more classic appearance choose a setting made of rose or yellow gold. The color theory behind this is that green and yellow create an analogous color combination, forming a relaxing and immediately likeable impression.

Closed up green jade with diamond and gold ring isolated on white background wedding ring and love concept.

Beautiful jade engagement ring set in white gold with a double diamond halo

However, it is important to choose your jade carefully. Select a Type A stone as that is the most durable and stable. This will be resistant to the inevitable damage that comes with daily wear and will last you a lifetime.

Taking care of jade

As we have discussed, jade is extremely tough and quite durable. However, to keep it shining and lustrous, it is important to regularly clean your jade.

Use soap and warm water with a soft brush to wash the stone. Once washed, make sure the soap is rinsed off and the stone is dried thoroughly. It is not recommended that you use ultrasonic cleaners or steamers as these can damage the gemstone.

When storing the jade, wrap it in a cotton or velvet cloth. This keeps it free from dust and from being scratched by other items.

Keep jade away from chemicals such as harsh detergents, bleach and cosmetics. It is always best to take off any jade jewelry when handling chemicals or engaging in outdoor/physical activities.

The symbolism and meanings of jade

Jade has been valued by civilizations around the globe since ancient times. The ancient Mayans and Aztecs believed that jade could alleviate pain, especially in the side of the body.

In China, jade is believed to be a symbol of prosperity, wealth, purity and beauty. The Chinese also believe that jade possesses healing qualities and can protect the wearer from illnesses by absorbing any negative energy.

Jade symbolizes love, healing and courage. It is believed to enhance wisdom and promote balance. Jade is also believed to foster peace and harmony.

Where and how can I buy jade?

When buying jade, it is essential that you purchase from a licensed vendor, especially if you are purchasing an expensive item. Ensure that you know whether the stone is nephrite or jadeite, and what treatments and enhancements it has undergone, if any.

If you are buying an expensive piece of jadeite, request a certificate of authenticity. This should disclose the authenticity of the stone and the identified grade.

Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is!