One of two distinct minerals commonly known as jade, jadeite is the rarer and harder variety. Rich emerald-green jadeite, known as “imperial jade,” is also the most highly valued. However, durable jadeite can be found in many colors and is well-suited for both intricate carvings and cabochons.
The value of a jadeite carving is as much a function of artistry and antiquity as the color and quality of the material itself. Jadeite is a very specialized gemstone, and evaluating these pieces is complicated. Its appeal is largely collector based. The finest jadeite originates from Myanmar. (In October 2016, the US lifted its embargo on jadeite from Myanmar).
Historically, China has had a great admiration for jadeite. Today, it remains the strongest market for this gemstone.
Jadeite has a distinctive spectrum useful in identification. There is a strong line at 4375 and weak bands at 4500 and 4330. The 4375 line is diagnostic but may not be seen in rich, deep green material, which has a chromium spectrum: strong line at 6915, weak at 6550 and 6300.
Since prehistoric times, people have made jewelry, decorative objects, and even weapons from jade. There are many legends and strong cultural associations with jade gemstones. The Chinese sage Confucius compared jade to a gentleman esteemed by all for his qualities. The Chinese have traditionally valued jade for carving as well as religious and medicinal purposes.
Cup, jadeite, Qing Dynasty (19th century), China, 2.5 cm x 4.4 cm. Bequest of Edmund C. Converse, 1921. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Public Domain.
The Olmecs, Maya, and Aztecs of Meso-America made ceremonial objects and jewelry from jadeite. They valued this material more than gold. The Aztecs characterized eloquence as “a scattering of jades.”
The Maori of New Zealand created weapons from jadeite as well as heirloom ornaments called hei-tiki.
“Jade carving, Māori P1210923,” National Pounamu, Stone and Bone Carving School (Te Takapū o Rotowhio), New Zealand. Photo by Jane Nearing. Licensed under CC By-ND 2.0.
What is the Difference Between Jade and Jadeite?
Until 1863, mineralogists considered the material known as jade to be a single mineral. In that year, the French mineralogist Alexis Damour discovered that what had been called jade were actually stones of two distinct mineral species: jadeite and nephrite. However, the Chinese had already distinguished two types of jade more than a century earlier. Yu was the jade material they had traditionally carved (nephrite). Fei-ts’ui was the intense green jade material that began to enter China from Burma (Myanmar) in the mid 18th century (jadeite).
Although jadeite and nephrite have similar outward appearances, they have different internal structures and properties. Gemologists should distinguish between these materials. Nevertheless, most people commonly refer to both minerals as jade without further distinction.
Jadeite can occur naturally in many colors, but green enjoys the greatest popularity. “Imperial jade” of deep green color from Myanmar is very rare and expensive. It’s sometimes called Yunan or Yunnan jade, and translucent material is highly prized.
Green jadeite boulders may have a brown skin due to weathering. Lapidaries often use these for carvings. The colors in such stones can sometimes have a mottled look. Jadeites in crystal form are very rare.
Jadeite belongs to the pyroxene mineral group. It can combine with other minerals from this group in solid solutions. Jadeite may be present in these blends, but they aren’t always described as jadeite varieties.
Maw sit sit is a rock found only near the Myanmar village it’s named after. It has a dark green color with black spots and green veins. Some specimens contain jadeite, kosmochlor (sometimes called ureyite), albite feldspar, and other minerals.
Omphacite may contain jadeite, augite, and aegirine.
Stone made almost entirely of jadeite is called jadeitite.
Jadeitite (Hpakan-Tawmaw Jade Tract, Hpakan Ultramafic Body, Naga-Adaman Ophiolite, Late Jurassic, 147 Ma; alluvial clast in the upper reaches of the Uyu River, Kachin State, Indo-Burma Range, Myanmar). Photo by James St. John. Licensed under CC By 2.0.
Jadeite has a distinctive absorption spectrum useful in identification. It has a strong line at 4375 and weak bands at 4500 and 4330. The 4375 line is diagnostic but may not be seen in rich, deep green material, which has a chromium spectrum: strong line at 6915, weak at 6550 and 6300.
However, many simulants or imitations appear on the market. Some natural gemstones that may be passed off as jade are calcite, green idocrase (erroneously referred to as “American jade”), aventurine (erroneously referred to as “Indian jade”), serpentine (erroneously referred to as “Korean jade”), and green hydrogrossular garnet (erroneously referred to as “Transvaal jade”). You may even encounter green-dyed marble sold as “Mexican jade.” See our list of false or misleading gemstone names for more examples.
Gray material can be stained to resemble “imperial jade” or dyed to take on a mauve color. Bleaching, or acid treatments, and wax impregnation are occasionally used to improve color and luster. Polymer coatings are stable treatments.
Jade pieces are very tough. Although not the hardest stones on the Mohs scale (which only measures resistance to scratching), they have great resistance to breaking and excellent wearability. Natural, untreated stones may withstand mechanical cleaning. However, acid treatments can create cracks in an otherwise very durable material. Not sure sure if your jewelry or carving has received treatments? Stick to warm water, detergent, and a soft brush or have your piece examined by a gem lab. Consult our gemstone care guide and gemstone jewelry cleaning guide for more recommendations.