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Jade is an umbrella term that includes various other gemstones; however the only pure forms of jade are jadeite and nephrite. Jade has been around for thousands of years as it was first used for making weapons and tools due to its toughness. The Mayans and Aztecs valued jade greatly and the name of the gem comes from the Spanish “piedra ed ijada”, meaning “stone for the pin in the side”. The Spanish explorers named the gem this due to the way the natives were holding the pieces of jade to their sides as they thought it could cure ills. The Chinese referred to jade as ‘yu’ meaning ‘heavenly’ or ‘imperial’. In the Chinese culture it is considered to be an imperial gem. Jade was also found in China’s Shang King tombs.
The Jade stone is also found in the South Islands of New Zealand, and has been treasured for many years by the Maoris, who used to call the gem one of its three names; ‘pounamu’, ‘greenstone’ or ‘New Zealand jade’. Pounamu has been used to make Maori tools, like chisels and fish hooks, and weapons, like short clubs and ornaments. The New Zealand jade is usually a green nephrite from the Lake Baikal region of Russia known as the ‘Russian jade’. Jadeite is the rarer of the two types of jade resulting in it being the more precious gem. The most valuable of jade gems is the emerald green jadeite, known as ‘imperial jade’. Nephrite is a more common gem to find than jadeite. Nephrite has been founded in Alaska, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, New Zealand, Poland, Russia Taiwan and Zimbabwe. The main source for jadeite is Myanmar (Burma) which is actually the only source for imperial jadeite. Jade can come in various different colours such as green, white, orange, yellow and grey. The most highly valued jade gem is the semi-transparent, emerald green gem. This is known as an imperial jade, which also only occurs in Myanmar (Burma). Some jade gems have more than one colour evenly distributed in the gem and as a result are of very high value. However, the colour of the gem also depends on the region it comes from, for example in the West, deep green jade gems are most common, whereas, in the far East there is a large proportion of white or yellow with a slight pink tone jade gems along with the green imperial jade gems.
Jade gemstones are quite often bleached with acid to get rid of the brown pigments found within some of the stones. By bleaching the stones it causes them to become porous and more prone to breakage. Once the gems have been bleached it is usually saturated with a polymer which would in turn fill the fractures creating a slightly more appealing appearance. In the Chinese jade industry, a grading system is used to classify jadeite by the amount of improvement it has received. Grade A on the system means that the gem is not dyed nor is it saturated; however it may have received a coating which is thought to be stable. Grade B means that the gem may have been saturated and bleached, but not dyed. Grade C is dyed and saturated. If the final grade is a D then this means that the gem is not a real jadeite.
Jade is one of the world’s most expensive gems, costing over the price value of rubies and sapphires. One of the highest prices for a single piece of jadeite jewellery was set in November 1997 at Christie’s Hong Kong sale: Lot 1843, the “Double Fortunate” necklace of 27 around 15mm jadeite beads sold for $9.3 million.
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