Jade is one of the oldest and most beloved gemstones on Earth. However, what we know and love about jade today is far different from how our prehistoric ancestors valued this ancient gemstone. Once the choice material for Stone Age huts, caves, weapons, working tools and cultural and ritual decoration, is now a beautiful ornament popularly used in jewelry and trinkets.
Beyond its material use, jade is one of the most symbolic and important gemstones prominent across multiple cultures and countries. In China, jade represents clarity and purity, and jade gem-carvings elevated the ancient stone to worldwide recognition as a sacred art form. In ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations, jade was a healing crystal and symbol of pride.
From paleolithic caves to intricate carvings and ornate jewelry, jade has been used for thousands of years. However, not all jade is the same, and it’s not all green, either. In fact, “jade” isn’t even a concrete term, as there are two forms of jade: nephrite and jadeite. In this article, we’re looking at the differences between nephrite jade and jadeite jade.
What is Jade?
Jade is an ancient gemstone dating back 7,000 years. For thousands of years people believed nephrite and jadeite were the same gemstone. However, in 1863, a distinction was made by French mineralogist, Alexis Damour, who discovered that the gemstone, jade, actually had two different mineral compositions. Despite this revolutionary discovery, to this day most people call both jadeite and nephrite “jade,” because they are unaware of the difference.
Another interesting fact about jade is that, while they are cherished for their bright green color, jade comes in a variety of other colors including lavender, blue, red, orange, yellow and gray. While jade is as sacred in China as diamonds are in the United States, jade deposits are located throughout the world and sourced from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Taiwan and Zimbabwe. Jade has even been found in Wyoming and Alaska in the United States.
So, how can you differentiate between the two? By knowing the differences between nephrite and jadeite. Keep reading as we explore the different types of jade in greater depth.
For centuries, nephrite was believed to be the only form of jade. “Nephrite” is Greek for “kidney,” because jade is believed to be a healing stone that cures illness, particularly in the side of the body, which is why “Jade,” comes from the spanish phrase, “stone for pain in the side.”
Nephrite jade is more commonly used than jadeite, and has a softer mineral structure that is quite durable. This is because of the fibrous crystals that form the structure of nephrite, which is a composition of calcium magnesium amphibole.
Jade is a sacred gemstone in Chinese culture, however due to the large amount of nephrite deposits in China, nearly all Chinese jade is nephrite. Variances in the crystal structure composition between nephrite and jadeite influence the strength of the stone. So, which one is more durable? Nephrite jade is the material stone workers used to build their huts in the Stone Age, and is also the material artisans use to craft intricate Chinese figures and jewelry filled with mystical allure.
So, if nephrite jade is the most popular and tougher of the two, what purpose does jadeite have?
Jadeite differs from nephrite in several ways, most notably the composition of the gemstone’s crystal structure. While nephrites are soft and fibrous, jadeite’s structure is made of grain-like crystals making it a more dense and hard material than nephrite. So, what edge does jadeite have on nephrite?
Only the most valued form of jade that exists: Imperial jade.
For years, translucent white nephrite was the highest quality jade. However, imperial jade contains trace elements of chromium, and has a captivating hue of green that’s more rich and brilliant than an emerald gemstone, and also more valuable.
Despite nephrite jade being the most common, Imperial Jade is actually jadeite jade, and is not as common or popular as nephrite jade because it is more expensive and valuable.
Imperial jade became the most high quality material in China when carvers and craftsmen discovered a variation of jade from Burma that was rich in color, evenly colored throughout and more bright and traditional than other jade. This jade became “Imperial Jade,” but was exclusive to the Emperor, as no one else could afford this prestigious material. Today, Imperial Jade is still the highest-quality jade available and can cost more per-carat than a diamond.
While jadeite is a natural gemstone, there are several time-honored processes that craftsmen have used for years to improve and enhance its natural look. Jadeite gemstones are often treated with various materials including heat, dyes, wax, bleach and acid. Reputable jewelers will explicitly state exactly what type of treatment a gemstone has undergone, either Type A, Type B or Type C.
Key Differences Between Nephrite Jade and Jadeite Jade
Now that we’ve explored the rich history, important symbolism and attributes of the different types of jade, here’s a recap of the key differences between nephrite and jadeite jade:
- Uses: Nephrite is the most popular and commonly used jade, but Imperial Jade (jadeite) is the most valuable.
- Appearance: Nephrite has lower luster and transparency than jadeite jade
- Composition: Nephrite is soft and durable, while jadeite is more dense and hard
- Craftsmanship: It’s no secret that jade has been a material for crafts, wares, and construction for thousands of years. However, Burmese jadeite jade is more optimal material for artisans, as it is more dense and easier to work with. Plus, the finished product after polishing has a higher luster than traditional nephrite jade.
- Density: Nephrite has a density range of 2.9-3.03, whereas jadeite’s density ranges from 3.30-3.38
As you can see, jade is one of the oldest gemstones on Earth and has a fascinating history, profound symbolism and many functions. And while we’ve explored the differences between Nephrite and Jadeite, they share a commonality in their ability to captivate the masses, tell an incredible story, and shine throughout time.