According to Chinese culture, if your soul feels like it needs a little healing, you should reach for some jade. This brilliant gemstone holds a lot of cultural weight: said to bring its wearer happiness, health and good fortune, jade also used to be used as a symbol of class and wealth, for good reason. Real jade can be pricey, especially if it’s jadeite, the rarer, more valuable form of jade. Jadeite is one of the two mineral species that can be classified as jade: the other is nephrite, a much more common and less valuable mineral.
The irony about jade acting as an important facet of Chinese tradition is that the highest-quality jade isn’t even found in China. While nephrite can be found in mineral deposits in various parts of the world, including both American coasts, Southeast Asia, New Zealand and Western Europe, jadeite can only be mined in 10 places: California; Myanmar; New Zealand; Guatemala; Itoigawa, Japan; Kazakhstan; Russia; British Columbia, Canada; Italy and Turkestan. Jade that comes from outside these places is probably nephrite. Naturally, because of discrepancies in origins, jadeite and nephrite also have very different chemical makeups, which change how the minerals react to processing and handling.
When it comes to shopping for jade, especially if you are in the market for something finer and more durable, the differences between these two minerals are crucial and can affect the price and quality of the product. The following are some tips and tricks that can help you discern between jadeite and nephrite.
Jadeite’s rarity is not the only factor behind its high price point: this mineral also occurs in rich and varied hues of different levels of clarity. Unlike nephrite, which typically only grows within a short spectrum of different shades of darker green, white, and sometimes black, jadeite can be found in pure emerald greens, lavender, red, orange, yellow, blue, brown, white, black, and gray. Of course, the most prized color of jadeite is a specific shade of green: “imperial jade” is the moniker given to the rare kind of jadeite that is semi-translucent and gives off a vibrant emerald green color. Other valuable types of green jadeite include “apple green jade”, “kingfisher jade”, and “moss-in-snow jade”. Because of its chemical makeup, jadeite can also take higher gloss polish, which can bring out the transparency of the stone, making it more valuable.
While jadeite and nephrite are very close on the Mohs scale of hardness, jadeite is still harder, ringing in between 6.5 and 7. Nephrite comes in between 6 to 6.5 on the scale, which is still relatively hard, but at this level, the mineral can still be susceptible to scratches from non-abrasive material. You can perform a scratch test on your jade to differentiate between jadeite and nephrite, but be very careful as this might damage the product. Find a part of the stone that won’t be handled or seen much, like the bottom of a carving. Stay away from weathering surfaces—areas that will often be touched or be exposed to corrosives like sunlight or water—as these will be softer and easier to damage. Using the blunt edge of scissors or a small knife, gently press a small line into the stone. If the scratch makes a small white line, gently wipe it off, since it might just be residue from the metal of the tool you’re using. If the indentation is still there after you wipe it off, you probably have nephrite, or worse, fake jade.
If these tests don’t yield decisive results, don’t despair. It’s actually incredibly difficult to ascertain whether a product is made of pure jadeite. Even professional appraisers and jewelers can only be about 80% sure that a jade product is purely one mineral or the other. As such, to be completely certain, you should send your stone to a laboratory. They will send the product back to you with a jade certification detailing exactly which minerals out of which it is composed. Making sure that the lab you send your product to is legitimate is definitely top priority in this case, so we recommend going through accredited gemological foundations to find a trustworthy place. The International Gemological Institution and the Gemological Institution of America, for example, both offer reliable gem analysis services.
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