Jade has been mined around the world for more than 2,000 years, but it wasn’t until 1863 that what was thought of as “jade” was revealed to be two distinct minerals—jadeite and nephrite. Jadeite, from sodium aluminum silicate, is the rarer of the two, and is therefore considered precious. Nephrite, from calcium magnesium iron silicate, is comparatively common, but has long been valued for its strength and hardness.

Most people think of the jade used in fine jewelry as a green gemstone, but jadeite is white in its pure form and actually appears in a wide range of colors, including lilac/lavender, pink, brown, red, blue, orange, yellow, and black. Jadeite can range from opaque to translucent or near-transparent, and has a greasy to pearly luster. The stone is often mottled in appearance, and has minuscule dimples when polished.

The most prized jadeite, particularly in China, is known as imperial jade. It is a deep emerald or apple green due to chromium oxide in the mineral, sometimes with tiny black inclusions. But this imperial green jadeite has only been available in China since the 1700s, when it was first imported from Burma (present-day Myanmar). Before that, nephrite was the celebrated stone used in ancient Chinese religious rituals for thousands of years.

Nephrite ranges in color from black-looking dark green to cream (thanks to the presence of magnesium) and tends to be more spinach or sage in tone, rather than emerald green. It may be homogeneous in color, blotchy, or banded. Its interlocking aggregates of fibrous amphibole crystals make nephrite tougher than steel, which is why it was used in many early weapons such as arrowheads and axes.

With its strength and luster, nephrite jade was considered a magical stone in China. It was thought to link the physical and spiritual realms, yin and yang, day and night, and good and evil. It was also used to denote high rank and authority in Chinese society. Today, nephrite is mined in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Russia, Siberia, Switzerland, Taiwan, the United States, and Zimbabwe.

While some jadeite can be found in Japan and the United States, the primary source is still Burma. Historically, Guatemala was the source of jadeite for Central America, where it was also considered a sacred stone. Even the Spanish conquistadors called it “loin stone” or “kidney stone,” believing it could heal kidney and hip pains.

In jewelry, jadeite and nephrite are typically carved and/or polished and fashioned into beads, cabochons, mosaics, figurines, and cameos. These stones are used in earrings, necklaces, amulets, and bracelets...

Jade jewelry came into fashion in the Western world during the Art Deco period of the 1920s and 1930s, when Chinoiserie (a fusion of European and Eastern styles) was, once again, all the rage with the women of high society. Countess Mona Bismarck had a 1930s jade-and-diamond bracelet featuring five rows of jade beads connected by diamond rondelles. The large diamond clasp is set with jade carved in the form of a small spider sitting on a finger-citron flower, also called Buddha’s hand.

In the 1920s, the celebrated singer Ganna Walska had two chimera-themed bangles representing Makara, the mythical Indian sea-serpent. Made by Van Cleef & Arpels, the bangle featured carved coral chimera heads decorated with sapphires and diamonds holding jade beads in their mouths.

It is believed that Barbara Hutton received her 1930 Cartier necklace featuring smooth, round jade beads as a gift from her father. In 1934, Cartier fashioned her a jade, ruby, and diamond ring to match the necklace.

Much jadeite today is impregnated with wax or plastic resins to imitate the luster and color of imperial jade; sometimes these dyes can fade. Other times stones like chalcedony are dyed to look like jadeite. Most of cheapest “jade” on the market is made of glass or plastic. Treated and dyed jade should always be less expensive than natural jade, while glass fakes can often be identified by the air bubbles below their surfaces.

At times, other stones have been confused with jade, leading to many misnomers including Korea jade (bowenite or serpentine), Colorado jade (amazonite), Indian jade (aventurine), Australian jade (chrysoprase), Transvaal jade (hydrogrossular garnet), and Honan jade (soapstone). Unlike true jade, serpentine and soapstone are easy to scratch.

Thanks to all the dyed and low-quality nephrite jewelry on the market, nephrite has been devalued as a gemstone. Jadeite, though, is still sought-after, particularly when it is imperial green or lavender. The more opaque, colorful, and evenly colored the jadeite is, the higher its value.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

All About Jewels Dictionary

All About Jewels Dictionary

This incredible reference dictionary on jewelry, from Enchantedlearning.com, is both beautiful and comprehensive. S… [read review or visit site]

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry

Jewelry collectors, feast your eyes on this internet gem! It's a goldmine of jewelry information featuring all styl… [read review or visit site]

Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery

Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery

With its vast galleries featuring clear images of jewelry and style, this site really covers it all! Divided up by … [read review or visit site]

Jewel History

Jewel History

Since March of 2007, readers of Lori Ettlinger Gross’s JewelHistory blog have been treated to her weekly (sometim… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Superb 14ct Solid Gold 25.4g Chinese Dragon Bracelet Bangle Jade Set C1920 NrGia Certified Carved Translucent Mottled Green Jade 14k Yellow Gold Bracelet Gia Certified Translucent Mottled Green Jade Bracelet 22k Yellow Gold 21.4 Gr.Vintage 18k Detailed Carved Green Jade And Diamond Pendant 1-3/8"Antique Art Deco Chinese Export Finest Carved Jadeite Jade & Silver Large BroochEstate Vintage Designer Green Jade Jadeite Diamond 14k Solid Gold Cocktail RingVintage 14k Large Translucent Green Jade Carved Butterfly And Flowers PendantVintage 14k Yellow Gold Carved Translucent Green Jade Pendant 1" RdUnique 24k Gold Jade Heart Ring 9.3 GramsUnique 14k/585 Lavender Jade BraceletVintage 14k Jade Pendant With Ruby And 16 Inch ChainAntique Chinese Export Jade & Gilt Silver Enamel Filigree Bracelet & Ring SetGia Certified Natural Color Translucent Mottled Green Jade 14k Yellow Gold Pin Estate Diamond 3.84ct Jade Platinum Marquise Ring 8.2 Grams NrLarge Vintage Finey Carved Mutton Fat Jade Pendant1940s Vintage Fine Color Genuine Green Jadeite Jade 14k Gold Mens CufflinksFine Art Deco Carved Jade 14k Gold Pendant On ChainAntique Victorian Solid 18ct Gold Carved Chinese Jade Pin BroochJadeite Jade Ring Chinese Apple-green 14k Yellow Gold Vintage 1970's (sz 7)Vintage 14k/585 Gold And Jade Ring Size 8.75Vintage 14k Yellow Gold Screw Back Green Jade Earrings 15 By 6.1 Mm Jade 3.8 Gr.Rare 14k Yellow Gold Extra Large Carved Jade Green/orange Pendant 4-1/4" Green/orange Jade (2) Fishes 1 Jade Frog Pendants 5/8" To 1-1/8" Long 14k GoldVintage Green, White And Lavender Jade Bangle Bracelet 13.5mm Wide1940s Vintage 14k Yellow Gold Natural Round Green Jade PendantAntique C. 1920 Deco 14k Gold Jade Jadeite Chinese Export Filigree Bracelet!Vintage 18k Jade RingEstate Vintage Retro Era Green Jade Jadeite 14k Solid Gold Men's Statement RingVintage Chinese Moss In Snow Jadeite Jade Engraved Silver Hinged Bangle BraceletVintage Jade Bangle Bracelet 14k Yellow GoldVintage 14k Yellow Gold Jade Ring 5.9 Grams1945 Lovers Messages Ring.rose 9ct Gold.jade Pearl & Turquoise Elegant Platinum Diamond Earring With Jade BacksAntique Carved Jade Wax Seal Mounted 18ct Gold Ring Armorial 9g Not ScrapRare Vtg Couture Giuliano Fratti Milan Italy Filigree Jade Glass Pearl NecklaceVint. 14k Yellow Gold Heavy Multi Color Jade Hand Chased Bangle Hinged BraceletTimeless 14k White And Green Jade Bracelet14k Solid Yellow Gold Jade Teardrop Earrings Vintage 5.5 Grams DangleFine Vintage Chinese Jade Jadite Green Bangle Bracelet Nice Polish 55mm InsideBeautiful Old Antique Chinese Carved/pierced Jade Pendant&necklace-no Res! Vintage Green Jade 14k Yellow Gold Jade Buddah 1.2 Grams 3/8 By 5/8" Fine Set Of Six Chinese Spinach Jade Silver SpoonsClassic 14k Carved Coral And Jade BroochAntique 30.04ct Jade Ruby Butterfly 14k Gold Butterfly Brooch Pin 11.3 GramsBeautiful Vtg 14k Chinese Jade Intertwining Circles&chinese Hallmark Earrings-nr$2,950 Beautiful Antique 14k Yellow Gold Natural Carved Floral Jade Ring 9g Vintage Jade Bangle Bracelet18k Translucent Mottled Blue And Green Large Jade Pendant Fish And Lotus Flower21kt Gold Jadeite Jade 4.7ct. Ring Vintage Chinese Antique Estate FindCarved Chinese Orange Jade Flower Clip Or Pin Sgnd Sung Silver ChinaVintage Translucent Carved Green/white Jade Pendant Flowers/animals 1-7/8" Antique Victorian Gold Filled Lions Head Hinged Bangle Bracelet Jade? Signed14kt Gold Icy Green Jade Heart Pendant Vintage Chinese Antique Estate FindVintage Green Jade 20/22k Yellow Gold Ring 6.0 Grams 12.3 By 16.3 Mm JadeElegant 18k White Gold Green Jade Earrings 7.0 Grams 9 By 12.3 Mm JadeSuperb Art Deco Era Bakelite / Cherry Amber & Jade Brooch. ?..bernard Instone..?Jadeite Jade Pendant Multi Color Cabochon 14k Yellow Gold Flower Jadeite PendantLarge Vintage White Jade Flat Drop Pendant 14k Yellow Gold Top 1-1/2" By 5/8"Antique C 1920 Deco 14k Gold Carved Pea Pod Motif Pearl Jade Chinese Pendant!22k Gold 6.8 Gram Vintage Chinese Jade Ring Size 7.5 M2391