Jade is a confusing term since it is used to refer to two different gem materials. The two jades, jadeite and nephrite, can be somewhat similar in appearance, so the confusion persists.

Jade, 2.49 carats, Burma
(Photo by ICA/Bart Curren)


Jadeite was first imported into China in 1784 from Burma. Up to this time the jade used in China was nephrite jade. Jadeite is found in a few places in the world, but the only commercially mined deposit is in Burma. Burmese jade is another name for jadeite.

Mayans in Mexico and Guatemala had jadeite weapons and tools hundreds of years before the Chinese first saw the material. The Central American source was just recently discovered in Guatemala. If someone’s skull can be broken with jadeite it certainly makes a durable jewelry stone!

Colors:White, green, yellow, red, orange, lavender, black and brown
R.I.:l.66 – l.68
S.G.:3.30 – 3.38
Hardness:6 1/2 – 7
Availability:Some colors meet demand; others are very rare
Localities:Myanmar (Burma)
Price:Low to very expensive
Common shapes:Cabochons in oval, round, navette, etc. Some carved

The colors of jadeite vary from an interesting gray to the most intense green. Yellow to gold, pink to blue lavenders, rusty reds, light to dark greens, pure white, brown, and black are all jadeite colors. Many pieces show more than one of these colors.

As in other gem materials, the intensity of the color is the most important factor in judging quality. Transparency is also critical in valuing jadeite; the finest jadeite is semi-transparent, the lower qualities are opaque. Evenness of color is important for pieces of jade cut to display a single shade. There are also some very attractive patterns and variations of color which are also highly valued. The Chinese have names for many of these patterns, such as moss-in-snow.

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Jadeite must be examined with a microscope to see if it has any internal fractures, these would reduce its value. If the jadeite is carved, the quality of the carving would be an important value factor. Evenness of cutting and polish are considerations in cabochon material. Evaluating a piece of jadeite is a complex process!

The most expensive jadeite is called “Imperial jade,” which is an intense medium green color, semi-transparent, and even in color. A fine piece will have no internal fractures. Your chances of seeing a piece of fine Imperial jadeite are not great unless you really have time to look or are extremely lucky! Imperial jade is breath-taking; it has an inner glow unequaled by other stones. The price? very high!

What are you likely to find in fine quality jadeite? “Apple green” is a term often used to describe fine green jade that does not quite have the intensity of color or the transparency of the Imperial. It is still in the very expensive price range for a good size piece. Some times jadeite is cut into very thin pieces to enhance the translucency. Some times intense green portions of color will be in an otherwise white piece of jadeite; this is “moss in snow”.

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Fine lavender jadeite is very rare and can be priced in the expensive to very expensive range. Lavender jade may range from a pastel blue violet to a pastel pink violet. Saturation of color, evenness of color, and translucency are the factors to consider in lavender jade.

Other colors of jadeite will cost quite a bit less than the fine greens and lavenders. Color saturation, evenness of color and translucency are still the primary value factors.

Lesser qualities of jadeite can be quite unique. Pieces that are multi-colored and carved can be very affordable as well as interesting. Buy what you find as beautiful, particularly in carvings.

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Frequently jadeite is dyed green or lavender. A knowledgeable seller is important when you are buying jadeite. Most dyed jadeite does not look quite right. If you are sold jadeite as natural in color, have the seller write on the sales slip that color is natural.

Jadeite is often sold by the piece rather than by carat weight as other gemstones are.

Nephrite Jade

Colors:Greens, white, yellow, brown, and black
R.I.:l.60 – l.64
Durability:Very tough
S.G.:2.90 – 3.02
Treatment:None known
Hardness:6 – 6 1/2
Availability:Sufficient supply
Localities:Taiwan, New Zealand, Russia and Alaska
Prices:Low to very expensive
Common shapes:Cabochons of all shapes and beads

Nephrite jade is not as flashy as its cousin, jadeite; nevertheless this is the true jade of ancient China. Nephrite jade was imported into China over three thousand years ago and was the most prized of all Chinese possession. It too was used for tools, utensils, religious articles and as a jewelry stone. Nephrite weapons were also used by the Maoris in New Zealand. The fibrous structure of nephrite is very densely packed and as a result it is the “super skull crusher” gemstone. In spite of its low hardness, it is considered the toughest gem material.

The ancient Chinese highly valued the translucent creamy white nephrite which is called “mutton fat” jade. Today green nephrite is commonly available. “Spinach” jade is an descriptive term for much of the nephrite available; it may also be called “Taiwan jade”; it has a dark cooked spinach color. Fine nephrite in a bright yellowish green color is found in Russia; it has distinctive small black inclusions. Brightness of color and translucency are the quality factors to consider when buying nephrite. Nephrite jade falls into the low (and sometimes, moderate) price range; it may be sold by the piece rather that the carat.

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Jade derived its name from the Spanish “piedras de ijada” which translates to “stone of the loins;” jade was thought to be a healing stone for kidney ailments. The Greek word “nephros” means “kidney.” Rough nephrite jade boulders resembled kidneys.

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