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Jadeite Jade vs Nephrite Jade

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An Imperial Jadeite Jade Small Boulder

The term Jade covers two different minerals – Jadeite Jade & Nephrite Jade. In its common term Jadeite Jade is known as the hard jade while Nephrite is known as the soft jade. Under the Federal Trade Commission rules in USA a seller describing his/her product as Jade must either be jadeite jade or nephrite jade and no other material.

Of the two minerals, Jadeite Jade is much more highly valued because of its vivid color, translucency and the very fine and compact texture within the jade.  With the extraordinary economic progress of China for the past twenty years, the price of jadeite jade has been escalating year upon year, as demand for high quality jadeite jade cannot be quenched for those affluent mainland and overseas Chinese, who are the main buyers for fine and magnificent pieces of rare jadeite jade at international auction houses of Christie’s and Sotheby.

The Jade mines at Hpakan, upper Burma

Contrary to popular belief, there are no jadeite jade deposits in China. Nephrite jade can be traced back to the ancient cultures of the Neolithic people (circa 5000BC – 1700 BC) in China.  In these early Neolithic times, jade ornaments were used as an integral part of the imperial palace ceremonial and state regalia, religious rites and as funeral artifacts for the emperors.

Inside an underground Jade mines in Hpakan, upper Burma

Jadeite jade reportedly was introduced to China during the 13th century when the previously inaccessible jadeite deposits in Burma found its way into China. The traditional and the oldest source of jadeite jade come from Hpakan in the Kachin Hills in North Western Burma (Myanmar).  Even to this day, it remains the only significant and singular source.  Here at the numerous mines in Hpakan, where the Uru river cuts across its heartland, are the richest source of jadeite in the world which have produced the finest Imperial Jade for centuries.

A Nephrite Jade carving pendant

There are perhaps some minor sources elsewhere notably Guatemala but their jadeite jade is mostly used as carvings and not of high gem quality.  Nephrite is found in a number of countries in the world.  In Canada nephrite is called BC Jade, in China it is called Soft Jade while in New Zealand it is called Pounamu, which means green stone.

An apple green Jadeite jade cabochon

Both minerals have different chemical composition and differ widely in their optical and physical properties though there look very similar by sight.  Separation between Jadeite Jade and Nephrite Jade can sometimes be tough if you are not familiar with both minerals.

The following highlights the differences:

Properties Jadeite Jade Nephrite Jade
Chemical Composition NaAlSi2O6 Ca2(Mg,Fe)5Si8O22(OH)2
Nature of mineral Pyroxene group Actinolite-tremolite series
Optical Character Aggregates (Double R) Aggregates (Double R)
Refractive Index 1.66 (Spot) 1.61 (Spot)
Moh’s Hardness 6.5 – 7 6
Specific Gravity 3.3 +/- 0.10 2.95 +/- 0.15
Absorption Spectra Line at 437 nm Rarely shows absorption

http://www.bwsmigel.info,

Watch out for more posts on how to separate between the two.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Ivan, yes a lot of people have mistaken that jadeite jade comes from China. The only singular source in the world is still in upper Burma.

    Thanks Ivan

  2. I used to have no idea about Jadeite and Nephrite and thought that all Jade came from China. That was a big mistake.

  3. Hi Allan

    The hardness on the Moh’s scale is defined to be the resistance against scratch. Hence, on the hardness scale JJ is harder as it is around 7, while nephrite is 6.

    Toughness is different. It depends on the bonding of the molecules within the mineral. In this respect Nephrite is more tougher than jadeite and it is more difficult to work on.

    Thank you for your comments

    arthur

  4. Nice definitions. It’s about time someone is posting the correct information. Thank you. I work both nephrite and jadeite and find it odd that the Chinese call nephrite “soft jade” and jadeite “hard jade”. I wonder when that definition happened? Maybe way back when “Yu” was being looked at in China and they thought serpentine was nephrite? Jadeite may be harder on the surface by a little bit but nephrite is much harder or tougher to work. It takes my twice to three times longer to drill nephrite with diamond drills that jadeite. Makes you want to say nephrite is harder than jadeite but it is simple just tougher.

    Keep up the good work here!

  5. Hello Eden

    This is only part of it. There may be another two or three posts that will give some answers to your query.

    thanks for your support and a good day to you
    arthur

  6. Hi Arthur,

    This is just the post I’ve been waiting for. Thank you for answering some of my previous questions. Very informative post and also very nice photos.

    Cheers,
    Eden

  7. Hello arthur,

    I have been following your posts on jade closely and I learn a lot of new things.

    Can you let us know how to separate jadeite and nephrite as I have come across this question many times

    thanks

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