Jade – Jadeite & Nephrite

When you hear the word ‘jade’, three things typically come to mind:

  • The color green
  • Country of China
  • Fine Jewelry

But there is much more to jade than these three things. Firstly, jade comes in many more colors than green. Pure jade is white, but depending on the impurities present, it can be found in shades of blue, lavender, yellow, red, gray and black. And, while China is the first country most people think of as a source country, jade has also been found in Burma (Myanmar), Central and South America, Europe, Asia, and parts of Polynesia (New Zealand).

China has been know for spectacular jade carvings for thousands of years, but you’ll also find jade used in the making of fine jewelry – past and present. Many well known jewelry artists today use jade – both jadeite and nephrite- as a medium for pendants, bracelets and rings with the jadeite pieces commanding a higher price.

For those that may be considering the purchase of jade items or jewelry, it is useful to know the difference between jadeite and nephrite jade. They both possess some physical similarities, i.e., hardness – but differ in chemical composition and crystalline structure. Most of the differences are based on more technical properties like specific gravity and hardness based on the Mohs scale.

Note: Nephrite is 6-1/2 on the Mohs scale, jadeite is 6-3/4 and cannot be scratched with the blade of a pocket knife. This method can be used to test for jade (in an obscure place), however, is not a reliable test since the item may scratch if the surface has been treated, burned or buried for a long time.

Other more simple observations can be made to determine the type of jade if the item has been polished or carved.

  • Nephrite has a much less glossy finish than jadeite
  • Nephrite may be a dark green due to the presence of iron (ferrous silicate) while jadeite will tend to shades of apple-green and emerald green colors. Imperial jade being the most desired and pricey.
  • Jadeite tends to be more translucent when a light is shown through it.

This is not to say all nephrite is less desirable. Items made from ‘mutton fat’ jade which is white and appears to look like congealed fat is highly sought after.   The figure to the left is carved  mutton-fat jade.

If you’re looking for additional information, there is an excellent Jade book available by Fred Ward a noted gem expert.

(Some pictures used in this post courtesy Jade by J.P. Palmer)


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