Jade: Map


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Unworked jade
Jade is an ornamental stone.The term jade is applied to two different metamorphic rocks that are made up of different silicate minerals:
  • Nephrite consists of a microcrystaline interlocking fibrous matrix of the calcium, magnesium-iron rich amphibole mineral series tremolite (calcium-magnesium)-ferroactinolite (calcium-magnesium-iron). The middle member of this series with an intermediate composition is called actinolite (the silky fibrous mineral form is one form of asbestos). The higher the iron content the greener the colour.
  • Jadeitite is a sodium- and aluminium-rich pyroxene. The gem form of the mineral is a microcrystaline interlocking crystal matrix.

The English word jade is derived from the Spanish term piedra de ijada (first recorded in 1565) or "loin stone", from its reputed efficacy in curing ailments of the loins and kidneys. Nephrite is derived from lapis nephriticus, the Latin version of the Spanish piedra de ijada.

Nephrite and jadeite were used from prehistoric periods for hardstone carving. Jadeite has about the same hardness as quartz, while nephrite is somewhat softer. Both nephrite and jadeite are tough, but nephrite is tougher than jadeite. They can be delicately shaped. Thus it was not until the 19th century that a French mineralogist determined that "jade" was in fact two different materials. The trade name jadite is sometimes applied to translucent or opaque green glass.

Among the earliest known jade artifacts excavated from prehistoric sites are simple ornaments with bead, button, and tubular shapes. Additionally, jade was used for axe heads, knives, and other weapons. As metal-working technologies became available, the beauty of jade made it valuable for ornaments and decorative objects. Jadeite measures between 6.5 and 7.0 Mohs hardness, and Nephrite between 5.5 and 6.0, so it can be worked with quartz or garnet sand, and polished with bamboo or even ground jade.

Nephrite can be found in a creamy white form (known in China as "mutton fat" jade) as well as in a variety of green colours, whereas jadeite shows more colour variations, including blue, lavender-mauve, pink, and emerald-green colours. Of the two, jadeite is rarer, documented in fewer than 12 places worldwide. Translucent emerald-green jadeite is the most prized variety, both today and historically. As "quetzal" jade, bright green jadeitite from Guatemalamarker was treasured by Mesoamerican cultures, and as "kingfisher" jade, vivid green rocks from Burma became the preferred stone of post-1800 Chinese imperial scholars and rulers. Burma (Myanmarmarker) and Guatemala are the principal sources of modern gem jadeitite, and Canada of modern lapidary nephrite. Nephrite jade was used mostly in pre-1800 Chinamarker as well as in New Zealandmarker, the Pacific Coast and Atlantic Coasts of North America, Neolithic Europe, and south-east Asia. In addition to Mesoamerica, jadeite was used by Neolithic Japanese and European cultures.


Prehistoric and historic China

During Neolithic times, the key known sources of nephrite jade in China for utilitarian and ceremonial jade items were the now depleted deposits in the Ningshao area in the Yangtze River Delta (Liangzhu culture 3400–2250 BC) and in an area of the Liaoning provincemarker and Inner Mongolia (Hongshan culture 4700–2200 BC). As early as 6000 BC Dushan Jade has been mined. In the Yin Ruins of Shang Dynasty (1600 BC to 1050 BC) in Anyang, Dushan Jade ornaments was unearthed in the tomb of the Shang kings. Jade was used to create many utilitarian and ceremonial objects, ranging from indoor decorative items to jade burial suits. Jade was considered the "imperial gem". From about the earliest Chinese dynasties until present, the jade deposits in most use were not only from the region of Khotanmarker in the Western Chinese province of Xinjiang but also from other parts of China, such as Lantian, Shaanximarker. There, white and greenish nephrite jade is found in small quarries and as pebbles and boulders in the rivers flowing from the Kuen-Lun mountain rangemarker northward into the Takla-Makan desertmarker area. River jade collection was concentrated in the Yarkandmarker, the White Jades(Yurungkash) and Black Jade (Karakash) Rivers. From the Kingdom of Khotan, on the southern leg of the Silk Road, yearly tribute payments consisting of the most precious white jade were made to the Chinese Imperial court and there transformed into objets d'art by skilled artisans as jade was considered more valuable than gold or silver. Jade became a favorite material for the crafting of Chinese scholars objects, such as rests for calligraphy brushes, as well as the mouthpieces of some opium pipes, due to the belief that breathing through jade would bestow longevity upon smokers who used such a pipe.

Jadeite, with its bright emerald-green, pink, lavender, orange and brown colours was imported from Burmamarker to China only after about 1800. The vivid green variety became known as Feicui (翡翠) or Kingfisher (feathers) Jade. It quickly replaced nephrite as the imperial variety of jade.

In the rich history of the art of the enormous Chinese empire, jade has had a special significance, comparable with that of gold and diamonds in the West. Jade was used for the finest objects and cult figures, and for grave furnishings for high-ranking members of the imperial family.

Prehistoric and early historic Korea

The use of jade and other greenstone was a long-term tradition in Koreamarker (c. 850 BC – AD 668). Jade is found in small numbers of pit-houses and burials. The craft production of small comma-shaped and tubular 'jades' using materials such as jade, microcline, jasper, etc in southern Korea originates from the Middle Mumun Pottery Period (c. 850–550 BC). Comma-shaped jades are found on some of the gold crowns of Silla royalty (c. AD 300/400–668) and sumptuous elite burials of the Korean Three Kingdoms. After the state of Silla united the Korean Peninsula in AD 668, the widespread popularisation of death rituals related to Buddhism resulted in the decline of the use of jade in burials as prestige mortuary goods.


Nephrite jade in New Zealandmarker is known as pounamu in the Māori language, playing an important role in Māori culture. It is considered a taonga, or treasure, and therefore protected under the Treaty of Waitangi, and the exploitation of it is restricted and closely monitored. It is found only in the South Islandmarker of New Zealand, known as Te Wai Pounamu in Māori—"The [land of] Greenstone Water", or Te Wahi Pounamu—"The Place of Greenstone".

Tools, weapons and ornaments were made of it; in particular adzes, the 'mere' (short club), and the Hei-tiki (neck pendant). These were believed to have their own mana, handed down as valuable heirlooms, and often given as gifts to seal important agreements.

One name used for nephrite jade in New Zealand English is "greenstone." While widely used to describe the material used for jewellery items made for the tourist trade, it is a misnomer and simply engenders confusion. The stone should be correctly referred to as "nephrite" or "nephrite jade". Nephrite jewellery of Maori design is widely popular with locals and tourists, although some of the jade used for these is now imported from British Columbiamarker and elsewhere.


Jade was a rare and valued material in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Pre-Columbian artifacts of jade or ‘‘probable’’ jade have been documented in the Antilles (Fig. 1a), including Cuba(Calvache 1944; Soto González 1981, citing René Herrera Fritot), Bahamas (Johnson 1980; Aarons 1990), Puerto Rico(Rodriguez 1991; García Padilla et al. 2006; Wilson 2007), Antigua (Harlow et al. 2006), and Grenada (Keegan 1991). Until recently, the Motagua Valley of Guatemala was the only known source region of jadeitite for these artifacts in Mesoamerica and the Caribbean (e.g., Harlow 1994; Harlow and Sorensen 2005; Harlowet al. 2006). However, old (but bibliographically ‘‘hidden’’) discoveries of jadeitite in the Escambray complexof Cuba (Millán and Somin 1981), and recent discoveries in the Rio San Juan mélange, Dominican Republic(Schertl et al. 2007a, b; Baese et al. 2007) and the Sierra del Convento mélange, Cuba (García-Casco et al.2009)open new perspectives for archeological and historical studies concerning trade in the ancient Antilles. Jade was largely an elite good, and was usually carved in a variety ways, whether serving as a medium upon which hieroglyphs were inscribed, or shaped into symbolic figurines. Generally, the material was highly symbolic, and it was often employed in the performance of ideological practices and rituals.

Prehistoric and historic India

The Jainist temple of Kolanpak in the Nalgonda district, Andhra Pradeshmarker, Indiamarker is home to a high sculpture of Mahavira that is carved entirely out of jade. It is the largest sculpture made from a single jade rock in the world.

Other names

Besides the terms already mentioned, jadeite and nephrite are sometimes referred to by the following:


  • Agate verdâtre
  • Feitsui
  • Jadeit
  • Jadeita
  • Natronjadeit
  • Yunnan Jade
  • Yu-stone


  • Aotea
  • Axe-stone
  • B.C. Jade
  • Beilstein
  • British Columbian Jade
  • Canadian Jade
  • Dushan Jade
  • Nanyang Jade
  • Du Jade
  • Henan Yu
  • Grave Jade
  • Kidney Stone
  • Lapis Nephriticus
  • Nephrit
  • Nephrita
  • Nephrite (of Werner)
  • New Zealand Greenstone
  • New Zealand Jade
  • Siberian Jade
  • Sinkiang jade
  • Spinach Jade
  • Talcum Nephriticus
  • Tomb Jade

Faux jade

Many minerals are sold as jade. Some of these are: serpentine (also bowenite), carnelian, aventurine quartz, glass, grossularite, Vesuvianite, soapstone (and other steatites such as shoushan stone) and recently, Australian chrysoprase. "Korean jade," "Suzhou jade," "Styrian jade," "Olive jade", and "New jade" are all really serpentine; "Transvaal jade" or "African jade" is grossularite; "Peace jade" is a mixture of serpentine, stichtite, and quartz; "Mountain jade" is dyed dolomite marble.

In almost all dictionaries, the Chinese character 'yù' (玉) is translated into English as 'jade'. However, this frequently leads to misunderstanding: Chinese, Koreans, and Westerners alike generally fail to appreciate that the cultural concept of 'jade' is considerably broader in China and Korea than in the West. A more accurate translation for this character on its own would be 'precious/ornamental rock'. It is seldom, if ever, used on its own to denote 'true' jade in Mandarin Chinese; for example, one would normally refer to 'ying yu' (硬玉, 'hard jade') for jadeite, or 'ruan yu' (軟玉, 'soft jade') for nephrite. The Chinese names for many ornamental non-jade rocks also incorporate the character 'yù', and it is widely understood by native speakers that such stones are not, in fact, true precious nephrite or jadeite. Even so, for commercial reasons, the names of such stones may well still be translated into English as 'jade', and this practice continues to confuse the unwary.

Faux jades are sold to the public as inexpensive jewelry or beads. Nephrite and jadeite are sold at fine jewelers for considerably higher prices than semiprecious faux jades, which come from lower end stores.Reputable merchants can provide the scientific name of specific "jade" stones upon request, although clerks who vend faux jades may be unaware that multiple types of stone are sold under that name.


Jade may be enhanced (sometimes called "stabilized"). Note that some merchants will refer to these as Grades, but it is important to bear in mind that degree of enhancement is different from colour and texture quality. In other words, Type A jadeite is not enhanced but can have poor colour and texture. There are three main methods of enhancement, sometimes referred to as the ABC Treatment System:
  • Type A jadeite has not been treated in any way except surface waxing.
  • Type B treatment involves exposing a promising but stained piece of jadeite to chemical bleaches and/or acids and impregnating it with a clear polymer resin. This results in a significant improvement of transparency and colour of the material. Currently, infrared spectroscopy is the most accurate test for the detection of polymer in jadeite.
  • Type C jade has been artificially stained or dyed. The red colour of Red jade can be enhanced with heat. The effects are somewhat uncontrollable and may result in a dull brown. In any case, translucency is usually lost.
  • B+C jade is a combination of B and C: it has been both artificially dyed AND impregnated.
  • Type D jade refers to a composite stone such as a doublet comprising a jade top with a plastic backing.


Jade is the official gemstone of British Columbiamarker, where it is found in large deposits in the Lillooetmarker and Cassiarmarker regions. It is also the official gemstone of the state of Alaskamarker, found particularly in the Kobukmarker area. A two-ton block of jade sits outside the Anchorage Visitor's Center in downtown Anchorage, Alaskamarker, mined from near Kobuk and donated to the city as a showpiece. Jade is also the state gemstone of the State of Wyomingmarker.

The 2008 Summer Olympic medals have a ring of jade in them.

Gallery of Chinese jades

Image:Ring with coiled dragon design.jpg|Jade dragon ring, Shang Dynasty (1700–1150 BC)Image:Jade dragon.jpg|Jade dragon, Warring States (403–221 BC)Image:Bi with two dragons and grain pattern.jpg|A jade Bi with dragons, Warring States (403–221 BC)Image:Huan in shape of a coiled serpent.jpg|Jade coiled serpent, Han Dynasty (202 BC –220 AD)Image:Belt clasp with dragon design.jpg|Jade-dragon belt clasp, Liu Song Dynasty (420479 AD)Image:Jade dragon (Tang).jpg|Jade dragon, Tang Dynasty (618907 AD)Image:Belt plaque with dragon design.jpg|Belt plaque with dragon, Yuan Dynastymarker (12791368 AD)Image:Belt plaque with dragon medallions design.jpg|Belt plaque with dragon, Ming Dynastymarker (13681644 AD)

See also



  • Scott-Clark, Cathy and Levy, Adrian. (2002) The Stone of Heaven: Unearthing the Secret History of Imperial Green Jade. ISBN 0316525960

Further reading

External links

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