Imperial jade (imperial) is a unique gemstone. The color of a common jade may vary from red to lilac (violet). There are also orange and pink stones, but imperial is always light green. This gemstone is popular in China, Japan, Taiwan, and Thailand. This is the only precious stone that does not occur in crystal form; it is mined from lodes that are situated on the surface or in the maternal rock.
Imperial arrives on the market uncut and only in the cabochon shape. The price is not set based on the carat weight; it depends only on the size of the stone. For instance, a top-quality, thumbnail-sized cabochon may cost $1,000,000!
Those who travel abroad, particularly in Asia, have probably seen stones of very different colors that were all named “jade.” Actually, this name is used for a whole range of different stones, from pale-green nephrite to lilac and apple-green jadeite. In fact, nephrite and jadeite are different minerals, with different hardness and density. Jadeite belongs to the family of alcalinous pyroxene; its chemical formula is NaAlSi2O6. Nephrite is an amphibole (a complex silicate of magnesium and ferrum Ca2(Mg,Fe)5Si8O22(OH)2). Traces of other elements, such as calcium, iron, and magnesium, in the mother rock gives jade its variety of colors.
However, the stone was not discovered all at once. The name “jadeite” appeared only in the second half of the 19th century when French chemist A. D’Amours determined that a green or pale-lilac nephrite is actually not a nephrite at all but another mineral. Thus, a new name had to be found.
Before this discovery, the Europeans called all these mineral “jade”, derived from the Spanish piedra de la jada meaning the “kidney stone.” In the 16th century, jade had a reputation of relieving renal colic, and all in all was considered a healing gem. It has to be remembered, also, that the word “nephrite” comes from Greek nephros, meaning “kidneys”.
|A lode of imperial in the pyroxene rock||Jadeite carving|
This gemstone accompanied man from the earliest times. Jadeite rock, along with nephrite, was used by our ancestors in the Stone Age to make knives and chisels. As the civilization developed, jadeite became more valuable. It is known that the Aztecs valued it more than gold, and it was considered the gemstone of the nobility; jadeite jewelry was used to decorate the temples, and the stones were essential for the sun-worshipping rites. The diggings on the Yukatan, in Guatemala, Panama, and Costa Rica revealed lots of items and amulets made of this stone, which are attributed to the Maya and earlier cultures.
The Ancient Chinese deified jadeite. Still, jadeite and nephrite were thought to be one stone, which was called yu in Chinese. It was used for jewelry, figurines, and even statues; it decorated dwellings and temples; and it was worshiped, as it is still worshiped by some today. In the 5th century, in the beginning of the Tan dynasty rule, an awesomely beautiful nephrite yu was found in the Northern part of the country.
At the same time, the apple-green gemstones were rare and mined with a lot of difficulty. Even now, with all of the modern equipment available, it is still difficult to mine jadeite. First, the serious uncovering work must be done, only after which the lodes are mined off the maternal rock. Jadeite findings have always been very rare, and the stone was destined uniquely for the Emperor court. That is why it received its name, imperial.
Countries that assimilated the Chinese civilization and culture also took jadeite as a symbol of prosperity, luck, success, and health. In Japan and all over the Southeast Asia, just as in China, this gem has also been considered a model of beauty. The jewelry shops there are full of jadeite, and successful Asians always wear a ring with a cabochon-cut imperial. In fact, this stone is not faceted—it is cut and polished according to centuries-old traditions.
Two Russian cutters I spoke with admitted that jadeite has some mysterious attractive power, and it is always a pleasure to work with it. I must add: everywhere this gemstone is mined or at least known, it is surrounded by almost a religious kind worship and is always associated with good fortune.
The most important jadeite deposit was discovered in the second half of 19th century in what is now Myanmar, where today, the state auction Emporium takes place twice a year. But Burmese mother rock has a peculiarity of its own: its shape is that of a large pebble weighing sometimes hundreds of kilograms, and the lode of imperial may or may not be present there. Everything depends on luck with jade, and this, of course, is a risky game or gamble, a word known even to those miners of jadeite who do not speak English.
|Luxurious weighty imperial|
Legends and myths about fabulously rich lodes found in the pebbles are told in low voices and listened to with bated breath. No matter how many times you visited the auction, each time you waited in anticipation. Jade is pure mysticism, plain and simple.
I remember much too well how 10 years ago at the Pussierka deposit, in the Polar Urals, we were sawing a chunk of mother rock with a diamond saw. After four days, all the sawing was done, and we discovered with much horror that the saw went right through the center of a fantastic imperial lode of the size of a bulldog’s head; it could not be seen from the surface. God, we turned into dust about $2,000,000 of precious stone! We were just unlucky. However, the next year at the Sokhatinoye deposit, which is in the South of the Krasnodar kray, in the Sayan Mountains, Lady Luck did smile on us: the lode could be seen from the very surface of mother rock, and therefore we were able to cut without fear of damaging the lode. We sold the stone with good profit and covered previous losses.
Jadeite is a rather hard stone (Moh’s hardness 6.5-7), as well as dense (from 3 to 3.5 g/cm3). The electrons in its molecules are tightly coupled and bonded. The stone is hard to break, and to saw it, one will need a diamond saw and a lot of time—as well as some luck, as seen by my previous story.
Jadeite has a rather vast color palette: green (including all its hues), pale-lilac (lavender), red, yellow, white, brown, and even black. To describe all the color varieties of jadeite, the specialists use a whole panoply of definitions: glassy, icy, earthy, cr?me, dry-green, oily-green, pea-green, etc.
There are three types of jadeite on the market:
- imperial – Emerald-green translucent, homogenous coloring; its color is warmer than that of an emerald; it has more yellow hue and lacks the “cold” typical of an emerald.
- commercial – Green non-transparent, with threads and spots of semi-transparent, emerald-green color.
- utility – Bright-green or dark-green; there is also ”cloudy” green, semi-transparent slush-like, and opaque white translucent that looks like lamb fat.
The most valued of the three is, naturally, imperial. Twice a year, Sotheby’s holds auctions in Hong Kong, where a good half of the lots on sale is imperial. Your head will spin when you take a peek at the catalogs: the price for the stone grows steeply and is often higher than that of a similar emerald with minimum cracks.
There is a legend that jadeite turns green only over time. I have never encountered anything like this, though; it is quite possible this myth has been invented by the sellers to make a client buy a lower-quality pale gem. On the other hand, I have seen loads of artificially colored jadeite on more than one occasion. In Myanmar, a lot of cr?me-white jadeite is mined. These stones, as they are, cost almost nothing. But the smart Asians learned to coat them with green jadeite powder so that they look like a natural imperial, and they succeeded in this technique so much that it is possible to distinguish between the two only with a help of some sophisticated and quite expensive equipment. Only very few laboratories can afford it; they deal with jadeite on a professional level in Southeast Asia. Fake stones are quite widespread there, so if you want to buy a true imperial jadeite, you have to establish contacts only with the trusted sellers.