The stone jade refers to either of two metamorphic rocks comprised of silicate elements. These two types of jade are nephrite and jadeite. Throughout time jade has been regarded as a precious material, though there are many types of imitation jade today. Both nephrite and jadeite jade have been used since prehistoric times and are regarded today as genuine jade. Essentially the two types differ slightly from each other in their chemical composition and color range. Nephrite may be medium-green, dark green, white, yellow-tinged, and even red. Jadeite can be found in shades of green, violet, white, pink, red, black, and brown. Both have been used extensively for ornamental uses over time.
Both nephrite and jadeite are prized, but the most expensive examples in either case are those that exhibit evenly distributed coloration. Perhaps the most prized jade is the translucent emerald green jadeite which is rare and has been highly sought after from ancient times to the present. Nephrite jade is found more readily than jadeite in such places as China, Russia, Guatemala, New Zealand, and Switzerland. Jadeite is found in Myanmar, China, Russia, and Guatemala. Today’s most renowned jade-cutting centers, where the raw stones are worked into objects of art, are Hong Kong, Beijing, and Canton.
Jade was famously used as an ornamental stone in China, as well as other areas of Asia, and Mesoamerica. In China jade was used to make functional items like buttons, but also for ceremonial objects of art like carved dragons since the Neolithic period. Archaeologists have traced jade mines to 6000 B.C. Relics such as Shang Dynasty jade ornaments have been recovered from royal tombs. Associated with the imperial rulers of China, jade was always reserved for the elite of Chinese civilization. Along the Silk Road, precious types of jade were typically valued above silver and gold.
Jade was also regarded as precious in other areas of Asia too. India boasts the largest sculpture ever carved from a single jade stone which is known as the Sculpture of Mahavira. Jade was also important to the Maori of New Zealand who carved jewelry out of the stone. Throughout Asia jade might be carved into intricate beads or recognizable shapes of animals such as fish or birds. Jade objects were regarded symbolically in Asia just as they were in Mesoamerica in pre-Columbian civilizations.
Over time archaeologists have uncovered many historic jade artifacts that fetch large sums simple because they are relics of the past, but contemporary artisans continue to work with jade to create objects of art as well as jewelry. Small statuary depicting animals or botanicals is common as are belt buckles and all manner of jewelry. Because jade is one of the most copied stones, it is important for buyers to become familiar with the hallmarks of genuine jade. Some common jade imitators are carnelian, glass, serpentine, and soapstone. Experts also warn buyers to be leery of enhanced jade. Buying from reputable jade dealers and jewelers is a good precautionary measure to consider when buying any item labeled as jade.