Jade Buying Guide
Jade, “The Stone of Heaven,” has an elegance unmatched by any other gem. Long used for tools and even musical instruments due to its toughness, jade’s value goes far beyond its appearance. Jade jewelry can be worn daily and passed down through generations, while retaining its original appearance. Though available in many colors, green hues are the most popular and valuable. Unfortunately, because of jade’s popularity and rising cost, many imitations have appeared on the market. Treatments for lower-quality stones are also widespread. For any significant jade purchase, be sure to obtain a laboratory report to ensure that the material is natural.
Jadeite or Nephrite?
As a gemstone, jade can be one of two minerals: jadeite or nephrite. While both are jade, there are significant differences between these minerals. First, jadeite, a pyroxene mineral, has somewhat greater hardness than nephrite, an amphibole mineral. Still, both are susceptible to scratching. On the Mohs scale, jadeite is 6.5-7, while nephrite is 6-6.5. Nephrite can occur in extremely large sizes. Large jade sculptures are commonly made from this material. Both materials are extremely tough and resistant to wear, though nephrite is somewhat tougher. However, the top color for jade, imperial green, only occurs in jadeite. Additionally, jadeite is more likely to be translucent. These factors, in combination with greater rarity, make jadeite more expensive than nephrite.
Quality Factors for Jade Buying
Jade value is based primarily on the mineral – jadeite or nephrite – then on color, translucency, and texture.
Because the largest market for jade is in China, some Chinese terms for jade quality are included in this guide.
The dominant factor in jade value is color. Green hues are the most costly.
Nuances in hue between green jade and true “imperial jade” distinguish excellent color from a truly top-grade specimen. In addition to green, natural jade colors include lavender, colorless “ice” jade, yellow, black, and white. Grey and brown colors occur quite commonly, while blues occur very rarely.
Pink jade, however, is never natural. Such specimens are either imitations or dyed jade stones.
By far the most valuable color, a bright, pure green piece of jade can be electric. Indeed, this “electric” quality of color, called cui in Chinese, is the determining factor for top color gems.
Top color green jadeite is “Imperial Jade” (Lâo Keng Zhong). This is a pure and vivid green hue. Though some call this hue “emerald green,” this isn’t quite accurate. While top emerald color has a slight blue hue, up to 20%, imperial jade is a purer green, balanced between blue and yellow hues. The ideal tone is medium-dark, about 75%, where green hues are optimally saturated. Sometimes, the term laijao, or “chili pepper,” is used to describe the ideal color of imperial jade.
Lighter green jade with slight yellow hues is Xim Keng Zhong, or “apple green.” The distinction between this and imperial jade can be difficult to discern, even for jade experts. Remember to carefully compare different colors of jade when shopping for your next jade piece.
A third green variety is flower green jade (Huã Qing Zhong). This is a mottled variety, exhibiting bright, dark, and light greens. Flower jade can also have white patches.
Nuances of hue allow for many varieties of green jade. Green coloring arises from trace amounts of chromium and iron, and slight changes in composition can alter a stone’s hue. Though many different green jades have their own names, imperial, apple, and flower green varieties are the most popular.
The second most popular and valuable color of jade is lavender. Purple hues arise from small amounts of manganese in the crystal structure. This makes purple one of the rarer colors for jadeite. Pink, blue, and red secondary hues may also be present. Of these, pink is most preferred, since it brightens the stone.
A colorless form of jade, ice jade should appear like wet ice. Although a more recent entry in the market, these stones have become the third most valued. Ideally, ice jade is transparent. You can read text through the stone. True ice jade is colorless. Stones with a slight tint of green or purple are “melon jade.”
Produced by iron oxide in groundwater percolating into the stone, red hues of jade are limited to the outer rinds of boulders. They’re usually orange or orange-red in color. With an ideal tone of about 30-40%, red jade can achieve high saturation. Some red jade stones receive heat treatments to improve color. However, this process lowers their value and usually creates brownish red pieces.
With strong orange hues, yellow jade can be bright and eye-catching. Yellow hues rarely result from treatment. They are often somewhat brownish.
Actually a dark-toned green, black jade makes a sleek and sophisticated addition to a jewelry piece. Due to its opacity, the texture of black jade largely determines its quality.
Often used for carving, white is the highest quality color for nephrite. “Mutton fat” is the term for this type of jade, which may exhibit a slight yellow hue. While this warm white is the ideal color for nephrite carvings, white jadeite is the least valuable form of jadeite.
Blue jade is very rare. Once used by the ancient Mayans, the largest source of this jadeite lies in the mountains of Guatemala. Blue jadeite has strong green hues and is often somewhat grey.
Brown and grey jade can also form naturally. Although these colors lack the glamour of more vivid hues, they make lovely options for jade buyers on a budget.
Pink jade doesn’t occur naturally. It results from dyeing.
As with most gems, color zoning in jade will decrease its value. However, most jade has mottled colors, with areas of vivid color adjacent to pale or white patches. Natural jade with multiple hues, especially three or more, is extremely rare. These specimens will command a higher price, particularly for vivid hues in an attractive pattern.
Although colored jade is never truly transparent, high translucency defines the highest quality jade. This is sometimes referred to as “glass jade.” This quality also draws comparisons to colored oil.
Translucent stones will have an “inner glow.” Light entering from the sides makes the stone appear as if illuminated from within. For the highest quality jade, the sides of a cabochon will glow slightly.
Composed of fibrous mineral grains, jade texture constitutes a significant component of its quality and appearance. Finer grains create a stronger and tougher material. They also cause the “wet” effect, where a properly polished, high-quality jadeite will appear to be full of water.
Similarly, coarser textures decrease the value of the gem. You may encounter many terms for texture. These include “sugary,” for a texture common in lavender jade, and “glutinous rice,” for coarser textures. Under magnification, coarse jade may have a dimpled appearance like an orange peel.
Although ideally eye clean, jade usually has inclusions present. Inclusions that impair the stone’s translucency will reduce its price. However, inclusions that appear as silky tubes may enhance the stone’s beauty. Similarly, attractive colored inclusions in white stones may raise their price. On the other hand, black inclusions visible to the eye reduce jade prices significantly because of their association with bad luck in Chinese culture. Any fractures, even internal fractures, will also reduce prices because of jade’s association with strength and durability.
For jade, cuts that use more rough will command a higher price. For this reason, jade bangles are some of the most expensive pieces of jewelry for their size. A linked bracelet of several jade pieces makes a great alternative for buyers on a budget.
Cabochons are the most common design for high-quality jade. The preferred cut is an oval double cabochon, with a moderate domed top and a smaller domed bottom. Some cabochons are hollowed out. This allows for greater transparency and lower prices. As a result, most rings have a small hole under the cabochon to examine the jade piece.
The Chinese symbol for eternity, a pi (pronounced “bee” and sometimes written “bi”), is another popular shape for jade. Like a plump donut, this symbol has a hole through the middle, ideally one-fifth the disk’s diameter.
Linked loops are another fascinating jade design, cut from one stone to form intersecting circles. Jewelry makers sometimes match these in a pair to create double loop earrings.
Round beads are another common use of jade. Due to color matching difficulty, long strands and strands of larger beads can hold very high values.
Carved jade pieces usually start with the removal of inclusions from the material. Generally, carved material is not top-quality jade, but there are exceptions.
Jade jewelry is priced based on the piece, rather than on a per-carat basis. Some jadeite occurs in very large sizes. However, top-quality material of even 5 carats is large and can fetch a good price.
Untreated vs. Treated Jade
Like other expensive stones, treatments and fraud commonly surround jade. For this stone, three “types” describe the kind of treatment that the stone has undergone. Even experts can’t be certain of an untreated stone just by looking at it. Therefore, get a laboratory report for any major purchase. In addition, always buy from a trusted dealer with a return policy.
Type A is untreated jade. A stone of this type may have a wax coating, but no other treatments are present.
Type B jade has been soaked in acid and impregnated with polymer. This improves the stone’s transparency and texture. Infrared spectrometry can reliably detect polymers. In fact, acid treatment alters jadeite’s crystal structure, removing sodium from the sodium silicate. (Thus, some experts claim that this material is no longer jadeite). Fine jade usually receives a custom cut. Therefore, if a jade jewelry piece has excellent brightness and transparency with a standard, calibrated cut, it’s most likely a type B. A type B jade’s price runs approximately 5-10% of that of an equivalent untreated stone’s. Unfortunately, a type B has much less toughness than untreated jade. It may break when subjected to small impacts.
Common dye treatments create type C jade. Detecting this in lavender jade proves especially difficult. A “blueberry juice” dye can create this color. Nowadays, dye is commonly used in conjunction with polymer impregnation. These stones receive the designation “Type B+C.”
In addition, red jade sometimes receives heat treatment. This process results in a permanent, reddish brown color.
Many materials are made to imitate jade. Glass is one of the most common. Other common gem simulants include:
More rarely, you might encounter hydrogrossular garnet, sometimes under the name “Transvaal jade.” Its translucency can make it a particularly convincing jade simulant. Other stones, such as carnelian, zoisite, calcite, and jasper may simulate other colors of jade.
Several jade imitations have marketing names that include the term “jade.” These are misnomers and should not be used. When in doubt, look up the term.