Jadeite vs. Nephrite in Jewelry – What’s the Difference?

While we tend to think of all jade as the same, there are two main types of jade – nephrite and jadeite. They may look similar at a glance, but these two varieties of jade have major differences, impacting price, beauty, and value.

This article will break down how jade is classified, and what differentiates nephrite and jadeite from each other.

The Classification of Jade

Jadeite vs nephrite differences

From the very beginning of its use, all jade items were perceived to be made of the same material. However, a few hundred years ago, Chinese craftsmen noticed a difference in the density of jade obtained from different areas. For instance, jade obtained from Burma was denser than most and the easiest to work with, giving a better luster after polishing.

This cluster of jade came to be known as “Imperial Jade” and fetched premium prices compared to the others. In fact, this fine-grained type of jade was reserved only for emperors and the rich, much like high-quality diamonds or amethysts in the past.

What these craftsmen didn’t know at the time was that they had identified jadeite and generally classified the different types of jade. In 1963, Alexis Damour, a Frenchman, augmented the work of these craftsmen by making the scientific differentiation of jade types.

Based on Alexis’ discovery, even though the jadeite and nephrite have very similar physical properties, their chemical compositions are different, with jadeite being high in aluminum pyroxene and nephrite being high in magnesium amphibole. They also differ in terms of availability and even durability.

Even with the difference in the chemical composition being so apparent, the two can be difficult to differentiate by the naked eye.

What is Nephrite?

Nephrite ring
Nephrite ring by Jade Mine Canada. See it here.

Nephrite is the common variety of jade – it’s abundant and more affordable than jadeite. Much of the jade you find on the market is nephrite.

This magnesium-rich gem has a pale color, and even though the iron in its composition gives it some green hues, it is most valuable when it comes in shades of white or close to white. In historical China, Nephrite was used to make ceremonial objects, battle armor, and tomb decorations. On the other hand, the Maori used it to make tools and gifts used to seal business deals.

Nephrite pendant
Nephrite jade pendant by Sada Jewels. See it here.

In terms of hardness, nephrite is about 6-6.5 Mohs, which though it may be hard, is still sensitive to scratches. To differentiate between nephrite and jadeite, you can turn the gem onto a side meant to be less visible and scratch it to see if it leaves a small mark. If it does leave a small white mark, then you have in your hands a nephrite – well, if not fake jadeite.

What is Jadeite?

Green jadeite pendant
Jadeite pendant by Gems by Rui. See it here.

Jadeite is the more valuable variety of the two, and also the more sought after. It’s much rarer than nephrite and commands high prices.

As earlier mentioned, jadeite has very high levels of aluminum which blesses it with a range of colors. The most common types range from apple green to deep green, or even azurite blue-green. In the Olmec community, most of the jade came in Olmec blues, a color they valued for ceremonial ornaments.

Jadeite ring
Jadeite ring with crystals by Grace Gems US. See it here.

Additionally, in Central America, the most loved shades of jade are pink, lavender, and black. Safe to say, dark green gems with an almost clear translucency make for the most valuable of all jadeites, while Olmec blue comes in second. 

Jadeite is further classified based on the treatment it has gone through to give it luster, color, and stability. Some of the treatments, which have been in use since prehistoric times, include heating, waxing, dyeing, bleaching, and polymer injection. Based on these treatments, jadeite found in stores will be classified into three: A, B, or C.

  • Type A Jadeite

This is the jadeite that attracts the most serious buyers. This is jade in its natural form. Even though it’s natural, this variety of jade will still go through an enhancement process. After production, the jadeite is boiled in water and dipped into molten wax, which is then wiped off after cooling. This process ensures that any and every irregularity is filled up, giving it a very bright luster and a smooth finish. 

  • Type B Jadeite

These jadeites are polished by soaking in either hydrochloric or sulphuric acid, a process that serves to remove both sodium and oxidation stains. It is further infused with wax to give it lustre and a smooth shine similar to that of type A. 

Due to the similarity of the end products, most people are unable to differentiate Type A from Type B. It is important to be careful with the detection of the difference because the treatment applied to the Type B gems can cause their appearance to fade out with time. Yet, if not properly informed, you may buy it at the same price as the premium type A.

  • Type C Jadeite

These gems undergo the same chemical and wax treatment as type B, but they are dyed to add color and shine. Unfortunately, the dye does not last long, so they may not look the same over time as they did in the beginning. Tests involving spectroscope, gemological filters, or a microscope can often identify these varieties.

Jadeite vs. Nephrite – Which Should I Buy?

Both nephrite and jadeite have their pros and cons. If you’re looking for a valuable, high-quality gemstone, opt for Type A jadeite. These stones retain their value and are the best of all jade types.

However, if you’re looking for the look without a huge price tag, nephrite jade makes for a great gemstone. It’s more affordable, easy to find, and there are endless designs incorporating nephrite.

In terms of their wearability, jadeite is only slightly harder than nephrite. It’s still highly wearable and extremely tough.


Jade Uses Throughout History

One of the most popular gemstones with an extensive color range, jade is used to make jewelry and ornaments. What many may not know, however, is that the gem was traditionally used to make sculptures, tools, and other objects. Additionally, this gemstone is so tough that in prehistoric times, it was used to make weapons, axes, and other hammering and scrapping tools.

Moreover, these stones do not only come in the commonly known green luster but also in grey, white, orange, blue, lavender, red and yellow. It is the beautiful colors and brilliant luster that saw the gem start being used to make ornamental objects and talismans.

Traditionally, the gemstone’s name varied from culture to culture, where they were named based on the illness they were believed to cure. For instance, the Romans referred to jade as “Lapis Nephiriticus”, because they believed that they cured kidney stones, while the French called them “Ijada, L’ejade” and finally “Jade” because they believed they could cure colic and other sores if they rubbed the gemstone against the afflicted area.

Jadeite and Nephrite Symbolism

Jadeite and Nephrite are two of the most highly valued stones in the world of metaphysical healing. These stones have been used for centuries to promote physical healing, attract good fortune, and promote positive energy.

Physical Healing Properties

nephrite jade drop earrings on top of a brown box
Nephrite jade drop earrings. See them here.

Nephrite jade’s name has roots in the Greek language, where “nephros” means “kidney.” This stone has been known to heal various types of stomach ailments, including kidney stones and menstrual cramps.

It was often found in round pebbles that resembled the shape of human kidneys, which is how it got its name. Nephrite jade has been highly valued for its physical healing properties for centuries. It is also believed to promote overall well-being.

Jadeite, on the other hand, got its name from the Spanish phrase “piedra de ijada,” which means “stone of the side.” In Central American indigenous communities, it was a common practice to hold a piece of jadeite against the side to cure back pain and kidney issues. Similar to nephrite jade, it’s believed to promote physical healing and overall well-being.

Good Fortune and Wealth Attraction

jade charm pendant gold necklace
Jade charm pendant. See this here.

Both jadeite and nephrite jade are considered “good luck” stones. Many people believe that carrying a piece of jade with you at all times can attract wealth and prosperity. The green coloring of these stones is often associated with cash, making them a popular choice for those seeking financial abundance.

Positive Energy and Emotional Stability

Beyond attracting good fortune, jadeite and nephrite jade are also known to promote positive energy and dispel negative energies. These stones can help to stabilize emotions and instill calm in challenging situations. They are often used to create a sense of harmony and balance in one’s life.

These stones have been known to stimulate creativity and enhance mental clarity. They also promote confidence and self-assurance, making them ideal stones for those seeking to improve their self-esteem and self-worth.

Jade in Different Cultures

Jade Bangle Isolated On White Background
Jade bangles. See more here.

Jade has roots in different geographical areas, including Asia, Europe, South Africa, South America, New Zealand, and North America, among others. Interestingly, in all these civilizations, the most sacred objects and gifts for rulers were made of jade, mainly because of its beauty and appeal.

However, it is in China where this precious stone found the most reverence. In fact, the Chinese refer to jade as ‘Yu’, meaning “Royal Gem”. This is because Chinese emperors came up with magnificent items made of jade that they used for trade, a feat that consequently put China on the map as the biggest manufacturer and consumer of jade items. Moreover, for any gift to be worthy of a big event such as a wedding, birthday, or anniversary, it had to be made of jade.

Wrapping Up

No matter the type, Jade stones are valuable and extremely beautiful. As such, they are a great gem to use for jewelry. Always purchase from a reputable seller so you can ensure that the jade you’re purchasing is what it’s claimed to be.

Dani Rhys

Dani Rhys has worked as a writer and editor for over 15 years in the jewelry niche. She holds a Masters degree in Linguistics and Education. She has always been interested in expression through fashion and accessories, and her extensive experience in the field has made her a respected voice in jewelry trends and education. As the chief editor of Jewelry Shopping Guide, she not only leads the content strategy but also shares her insights through engaging articles. Her passion for storytelling is reflected in every piece she curates, exploring the intricate relationship between jewelry and personal identity.

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