Jade is one of the most popular gemstones and has enjoyed an extremely rich history throughout the world. While Jade is extremely popular in Europe and the Americas, it is truly one of the most popular stones in Asia steeped with deep traditions and religious association.
One of the reasons that Jade is so popular is the many different colors that it comes in. While its most popular color is green, which is usually a rich and intense green with a greasy finish, Jade can come in a wide variety of colors including white, grey, yellow, and orange. Jade denotes two stones, which up until 1863, were thought to be the same mineral. These mineral stones are Jadeite and Nephrite. Of the two Jadeite is the rarer stone and while it does come in many different colors, the most popular is its beautiful greens and whites. Nephrite comes in usually green and white.
The Uses of Jade
Jade is one of the most unique and popular gemstones in the world. While it is popular and precious in Europe and the United States, it is on a much higher level in popularity and tradition in East Asia, specifically China.
Jadeite is the less common form of Jade. It can be in its most valuable state, a deep intense green, called Imperial Jade or can come in colors such as yellow, grey, violet, orange, light green, and pink. Nephrite is the more common Jade and thus more affordable type. The trace element that makes Jade green is Chromium.
Jade is mostly used as ornamental jewelry; however, it is also used to create practical items such as smoke or snuff box sculptures and other everyday items. However, the best pieces of Jade are usually reserved as ornamental jewelry.
Jade – The History and Origins
Jade is one of the more traditional gemstones available today. It has had a long history and has been known to man for at least 7,000 years. Jade is extremely popular in Asia, especially in China. It should be noted that Jade is two distinct minerals, they are Jadeite and Nephrite. It wasn’t until 1863, that these two stones were known to differ, since both stones have a long heritage of being called Jade, they are both accepted as true and traditional Jade.
Jade was used for thousands of years, by China, North Africa, and Europe as materials for weapons. In China, Jade is called Yu and it was the pride and joy of emperors and the imperial family. Jade is tougher than steel in some ways and was used in ancient history as protection or as part of weapons. Jade was also used for religious ceremonies and as ornaments that are closely associated with Chinese culture.
Jade has a history in China of at least four thousand years. Unknown to some, it is found contained within the development of religion and civilization, having moved from the use of decoration to the others such as the rites of worship and burial. Although other materials like gold, silver, and bronze were also used, none of these have ever exceeded the spiritual position that jade has acquired in peoples’ minds – it is associated with merit, morality, grace, and dignity. In the funeral objects of the people of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC – 24 AD), for example, we can see only high officials were buried with jade articles.
In the West, diamonds, rubies, and emeralds were expensive gemstones worn by high-ranking people as status symbols, but in China, nephrite (ruan yu, 軟玉) was regarded as a status symbol and was used for jewelry and expensive decorations. The character for jade 玉 looks almost like the character for emperor 王, with the addition of the small stroke on the bottom right that might represent a stone. The character for jade may mean “the emperor’s stone”.
During the Chinese Bronze Age and before, jade was valuable as a material for making weapons and axes. At the time, durable luxury objects, such as cups and buttons, were also made from jade. Its scarcity, because it had to be imported from Xinjiang and other faraway places, and the powers it was thought to possess to bring health and cure diseases, may be why it came to be considered the gemstone of the Emperors.
Interestingly, nephrite was imported from as far away as the region of the Taklamakan Desert, in what is now Xinjiang, 3,000 years ago. At that time, Caucasian people lived in the area. It may be that these people traded with the Shang Dynasty (1766 -1122 B.C.) of China because all the nephrite pieces found in the Shang Dynasty tombs are from that area of Xinjiang.
During the Han Dynasty (202 BC–220 AD), the Emperor’s burial suits were made entirely of jade pieces that were pieced together. As the various empires came and went, the intricacy of the carvings increased. Craftsmen spent more and more time carving more intricate designs.
Jadeite wasn’t mined in China, Mongolia, or Xinjiang, so when green jadeite from Burma became available after 1800, during the Qing Dynasty, it became the preferred imperial form of jade. Looking at nephrite articles of the various eras, the designs progressively became recognizably more like modern Chinese designs, like the ones from Qing Dynasty (1636–1911).