Jade Color – White, Blue, Red, Green, Yellow, Orange, Brown, Pink, Purple, Gray, Black
Jade is a gemstone that has been honored for thousands of years in many cultures. Its Mohs hardness of about 7 and its extraordinary toughness has made it an excellent medium for making tools such as knife handles or axe heads, or items like bowls or teapots. Along with the versatility of the stone for everyday items, its color and translucence has made jade a beloved jewel to be made into personal adornments and religious items.
The name “jade” refers to two gemstones, nephrite and jadeite. Nephrite is most often dark green, though it may be grey, blue, brown, yellow or white. It is the more common and affordable of the two jade stones. Jadeite comes in a rainbow of colors, including lavender and black. It’s the more sought out of the jades. The two jades have different chemical formulas, which is part of the reason they have different factors when it comes to ideal stones.
Jadeite is prized for its colors, the way light travels through the jewel, and centuries of lore which make it a symbol of purity and other virtues. Jadeite rough is often massive, at times measuring in tons. This sizing not only allows for beads and cabochons, but also rings and bracelets carved from a single piece of stone. As with other jewelry, there are many aspects to consider when buying jadeite.
The top three factors in evaluating jadeite are color, texture and transparency. Of the three, color is especially important. Green is the most popular hue, though it comes in many forms, from a dark bluish green to yellow green of low saturation. The most coveted of these colors is a medium toned pure green known as Imperial. Vivid yellowish green jadeite described as “apple” or “grassy” are also favored and are more available than Imperial. Darker tones tend to be preferred over lighter ones.
Other in-demand jadeite colors include lavender. The preferred look for lavender jade is vivid saturation and medium tone. Ideal lavender jade can be more valuable than some types of green jadeite. Paler lavender and those with a bluish purple hue tend to be more affordable and easier to find.
More colors of note include black, red and colorless. While black nephrite is more common, black jadeite from Guatemala has gotten the attention of designers. It’s often carved, the hue used to complement the precious metals and other precious stones in a design. Orange and red jadeite looks its best with low brownish coloring. Colorless jadeite can resemble moonstone, and may be used to give a piece an ethereal quality.
In addition to pretty hues with desired tone and saturation, how the color is distributed matters. The most sought out jadeite has evenly distributed coloring, with no visible variations. More often than not, jadeite has uneven color distribution. Jewels with color zones against a contrasting background are known as mottled. Carvers take advantage of this jadeite to create pieces where color zoning highlights the images. Examples include cameos where the foreground in green and lavender while the background is white or other hues.
Jadeite may be opaque, translucent or semitransparent. With semitransparent gems, light is able to travel into the stone, giving the jadeite a delicate, glowing appearance. If all other factors are equal, jadeite that’s opaque overall or in patches is in less demand than semitransparent. If the transparency is high enough, even jade with less desired coloring may fetch a high price.
To determine transparency in jadeite, some jewelers take advantage of the printed page. Print that is hidden behind the jadeite is probably opaque. If the words are difficult to see, the jewel has a measure of translucence, and stones with clearly visible print behind them are semitransparent. This contrasts with faceted jewels, which sometimes uses similar methods to determine their quality, with a preference towards print not being visible through the stone.
While jadeite may be mounted onto precious metal, it can also be worn as beads, pendants, bangles and rings. When it’s carved into objects d’art, jadeite may become an item that’s meant to be handled, like a snuff bottle or teapot. Since there are many circumstances where jadeite may come in contact with skin, it’s evaluated by texture.
How jadeite feels is dependent upon on how the stone initially formed. The smaller the crystals that make up a piece of jadeite, the smoother the consistency. Finer texture also helps jadeite take on a stronger polish. There may also be a connection between jadeite texture and transparency, with coarser jewels more likely to be opaque.
Some jewelers and connoisseurs use special terminology to describe jadeite texture. “Old mine” jadeite is the most preferred type, due to its exceptional fineness. “Relatively old mine” has a moderate texture, while “new mine” is the coarsest grade. Those looking for jadeite to wear directly against the skin may want to seek out old mine or relatively old mine stones. If the jadeite is mounted onto precious metal, the coarseness of new mine jadeite is less likely to be noticed.
While jadeite is extremely tough and comes in an array of colors, manufacturers may treat jadeite to improve their appearance. This is not unlike a carpenter who sands a table smooth before applying varnish. The original material is still here, altered to feel pleasant against human hands, while its color and luster rendered more pleasing to the eye.
Depending on the quality of the rough jadeite, the gemstone may experience one of three treatment types after it’s carved. Type A jadeite refers to a traditional treatment in which the jewel is heated in water before it’s dipped into melted wax. This treatment fills in any pits or cracks that may have been missed from the polishing, and enhances the luster of the jadeite.
Type B jadeite was developed in the mid-1970s. Jadeite with unwanted brown or yellow spots may be bleached, a process which makes the gemstone more fragile. To improve its durability, the stone is impregnated with wax or polymer. Type C is jadeite which has been dyed, a technique that has been used since the 1950s. Sometimes Type C is used in conjunction with Type B, where the jadeite is bleached before it’s dyed.
Types B and C have limited stability, and less value than Type A jadeite. According to the Federal Trade Commission, all vendors must disclose whether or not their gemstones, including jadeite, have undergone treatments, and whether or not the treatment is stable. If you are still uncertain as to the type of jadeite a piece you’re admiring has, don’t hesitate to ask the salesperson.
About Jade Boulders
Assessing the quality of jade can be tricky when it comes to examining the rough. Both jadeite and nephrite start as rocks which can be the size of pebbles, or massive boulders measured by the ton. Jadeite and nephrite rough are also coated with “skins” which hide the gemstone underneath. Buyers must make educated guesses in hopes of getting the jade they’re looking for.
To help buyers gauge the beauty of the jade underneath, vendors may polish spot known as windows on the boulder skin, revealing some of the gemstone underneath. Depending on the quality of the jade directly beneath the window, it may make the boulder seem more appealing or less attractive. Some boulders naturally have thin spots in their skin where the jade is visible underneath, known as show points.
There’s a display in British Columbia, Canada featuring a cross section of a nephrite boulder mined from the province’s Dease Lake. The sample is a foot thick, weighs 2850 pounds, and took over 200 hours of constant cutting to create. The cross section is a mottled dark green at the top and bottom, while the center contains host rock. After a buyer purchases a jade boulder, it takes great effort to cut the stone into pieces suitable for jewelry. What can be discerned from a window may not tell the story of what the rest of the jade is like.
Some vendors may split their jade boulders in two, allowing buyers a clear view into the jade’s interior. This action is a risk for the vendor. If the jade inside is of good quality, dividing the boulder in such a drastic fashion may inhibit how much can be made from the gemstone. A more cautious approach involves cutting thin sections of the boulder, starting from the outside and moving inwards, stopping when desired color makes itself known. This way, damage to jade is reduced.
Nephrite is the other gemstone known as jade. Like jadeite, it’s frequently mottled and may be transparent to opaque. It’s slightly less tough than jadeite, though still exceptionally strong. Nephrite is also famed for its green, and comes in other colors such as yellow, brown, white and black. This stone has a longer history in countries like China and New Zealand, who have worked with nephrite for centuries before they were introduced to jadeite.
The preferred color of nephrite is green. These greens often have a yellow tint, and nephrite’s colors as a whole are usually darker and less saturated than jadeite. The color may be referred to as “spinach jade,” as a way to distinguish nephrite from jadeite’s “apple” or “grassy” hues. Polar jade, a type of nephrite discovered in Canada in the mid-1990s, has verdant colors with medium tone and vivid saturation.
Nephrite’s other preferred color is white. White jade was prized for centuries in China, where it was reserved for royalty. Shades of white ranged from pure white to very light yellow, with a creamy color referred to as “mutton fat.” As with other forms of jade, white nephrite may be marbled with other colors or shades of white.
Due to the way light interacts with jade, it’s rarely faceted. Even semitransparent jade is usually fashioned into cabochons, beads or other styles. The gemstone is soft enough to carve yet durable, the stone can be cut in unique ways. As jade rough can be quite large, these two factors can lead to designs rarely found in other jewels.
Hololiths are pieces shaped from a single piece of jade. These can be pendants carved into symbols of good fortune or other auspicious images. Other hololiths include rings, which are often simple bands or have an oblong cabochon built into the top, known as saddle rings. Rings of uniform color are rarer, and thus more valuable. Hololiths shaped into bangles are especially notable.
The tradition of making and wearing jade bangles is thought to be over four thousand years old. Manufacturers take pains to ensure that their bangles have no visible flaws. Those with cracks or other damage are trimmed to a thinner, more aesthetically pleasing bangle. Bangles cut from a single piece of jade is costly, due to the amount of rough that must be sacrificed. Less expensive versions are made of multiple pieces of jade, their joins covered with precious metal.
When high quality jade is cut into cabochons, it will often be shaped into a double cabochon, so its underside is rounded instead of flat. This helps the tone of light colored jade and increases saturation. Their settings may have a mirror like backing to help draw out translucence. Jade beads are usually made into necklaces. As with pearls, matching jade beads is a challenge. The biggest factors for matching are color and texture, though size, transparency and bead symmetry are also considered. Due to the effort required, longer strings of jade beads tend to be more valuable.
Nephrite vs. Jadeite
The word “jade” refers to two stones, jadeite and nephrite. Not only do they have similar appearances, their names come from the same source, Spanish colonizers who believed these gems could heal kidney ailments. Despite their similar appearance and strength, jadeite and nephrite have different chemical structures and quirks.
Jadeite is the stone with a larger color range. In addition to green, it’s available in yellow, orange, white black and purple. The variety within each hue is also notable, stretching from pale to bright, from saturated to dark, and the forms in between. Jadeite is also the slightly harder of the two, sitting in between 6.5 and 7 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness.
Nephrite is slightly softer than jadeite, with a Mohs hardness of 6 to 6.5, and has a more muted palette. Its shades run from green to brown, yellow, black and white. While some stones are opaque, they’re also found in transparent and translucent forms. Nephrite is also the more musical of the two stones, ringing when gently struck.
The English name for jade derives from the Spanish “piedra de ijada” or “stone of the flank,” from a Central American belief that holding the jewel to one’s side would cure a variety of ailments, especially kidney troubles. The name for nephrite is a reference to this medicinal purpose. A Ming dynasty era text by Li She Chan states further health benefits of jade. When pulverized, the stone would strengthen the heart, lungs and voice. If jade powder was made into a potion with rice and dew, the patient would gain a strong body along with a clear mind.
Jade has long been admired in China, where it is associated with ideals such as purity, virtue, wisdom and loyalty. In Chinese, the written word for “jade” appears in the characters for “precious” and “treasure.” It’s also a favored medium for carving symbols for heaven, immortality, happiness and prosperity. Along with decorative and ritual purposes, Chinese jade has also been fashioned into everyday objects such as writing tools.
Initially, in the Joumon period of Japan between 1,000 and 300 BCE, comma shaped magatama jewels could be made from a variety of materials, including clay, slate and jade. By the 300 BCE-300 ACE Yayoi era, the materials for magatama became more selective until by 250 ACE jade was the dominant material used to make the jewels. By this time, magatama were used for ceremonial burials, and incorporated into Shinto lore, such as the story of the sun goddess biting off pieces of magatama, creating more gods.
As greenstone, jade is held in high esteem by the Maori of New Zealand. Hei-tiki pendants considered heirloom worthy cultural treasures and worn on special occasions. Though some examples are made from ivory or bone, most hei-tiki are made from greenstone, emphasizing the pendant’s special status. Jade is/was used to symbolize prestige, a chief’s power, and would be gifted to symbolize a peace agreement. A blade known as a mere is frequently made of greenstone, passed down family lines, used as a symbol of leadership, and has strong spiritual power. As such, especially esteemed mere were carefully hidden when not in use.
Jade was also mined in pre-Columbian central America and used by a variety of cultures, including the Mayans and Olmecs. In this region, jade often had strong religious associations, such as with Mayans and the sun, or Olmecs with water. The stone was often carved into masks, representations of gods and other figurines as well as jewelry and mosaic pieces.
Jade is a gemstone beloved for countless years, across many cultures. It’s often imbued with religious significance and carved into ceremonial items. Jade’s perceived spiritual benefits are at times transferred into bodily good, leading the jewel to be used as a medicine. All of these meanings and purposes made jade a gemstone worthy of the highest ranked in society.
In China, jade is a potent symbol of purity. This belief dates as far back as the Han dynasty, when high ranking nobles would commission jade suits to posthumously cover them from sole to scalp. These garments served a ritual purpose, as the stones were believed to be powerful enough to protect the body from decay.
Jade suits also served as extravagant status symbols. With as many as 2498 jewels used in the creation of a covering, the main material was costly, but not the sole expense. Depending on the wearer’s rank, the stones were joined together with silk, copper, silver or gold. The labor involved in these creations was also enormous, taking as many as ten years to complete one suit.