The Secret Stone: Jadeite

Though it has been prized for centuries in Asia and was once the stone of Kings in Mesoamerica, Jadeite has remained a mysterious, misunderstood stone in modern times. You might be surprised to learn that Jadeite is the world’s most expensive gem (next to certain rare diamond colors).

Its rarity and scarcity, combined with a lack of education and marketing, has kept Jadeite a relatively unknown gem. Perhaps this adds to its appeal… Jadeite is a special secret for those who truly understand and appreciate its value.

To offer an easy to understand, short summary:

There are two kinds of jade, nephrite and jadeite. Nephrite is softer and more readily available, while Jadeite is harder and very rare.

Like any other gemstone, Jadeite can vary tremendously in value.

The record price for a single item of Jadeite: A necklace of 27 individual 15mm beads sold for US$9.3 million at a Christie’s Hong Kong Auction.

Imperial Jadeite Necklace sold for US$9.3 million Image: Christie's Images Ltd.

Imperial Jadeite Necklace sold for US$9.3 million Image: Christie’s Images Ltd.

Diamond grading uses the 4 c’s (color, carat, clarity, and cut) to determine the value of a stone. For Jadeite, there is not a specific grading chart, and depending on the assay,  a variety of different terms can be used. Some call it the 3 T’s (translucency, texture and tone). The Honk Kong Jade Association uses color, translucency, shape and clarity.

Regardless of the terminology, the most important elements are essentially:

Translucency

Jadeite can range from completely opaque to nearly transparent. Hold the Jade up to the light or shine a flashlight directly onto it. The more light shines through the stone, the higher value.

Color/Tone

Pure Jadeite is white. As the stone rises to the earths surface and comes to contact with other minerals, it changes color. The varying minerals, as well as the different ways that they come into contact with the stone, results in countless variations of color and tone.

The Colors of Jadeite Image: Mason Kay

The Colors of Jadeite
Image: Mason Kay

The color itself affects the value of Jadeite. Imperial green, an intense emerald green color, is the rarest and most valuable.  The saturation or intensity of the color is also important. Lavender is a rare and valuable color, but can range from a light, blush of color to a vivid, almost violet. The distribution of color is another element affecting value. An even color is desirable.

Clarity/Texture

The most valuable stone has a flawless clarity and is free of  crackles, scratches, or cloudy patches. However, many people actually like the “character” that is unique to less valuable forms of jadeite. It is the variety of inclusions and textural elements that make each stone different and special. Price-wise, though, a completely even texture is ideal.

Cut/Shape

The quality of craftsmanship used to carve jade is the final element in establishing its value. The shape, size, cut and polish will all affect the price of a stone. Often, the most valuable jadeite is found in tiny veins within a larger jadeite boulder.

All of these elements, on their own, are important when evaluating jade, but it is the combination that truly affects the value.

Additionally, jadeite is graded as A, B or C depending on the treatment (or lack thereof) which it receives.

A Jade (Natural)

Natural jadeite that has not been subjected to any form of chemical treatment except colorless wax polishing. The crystalline structure of the jade has not been damaged.

B Jade (artificially treated)
Jade that is chemically treated and impregnated with resin to enhance its translucency. The structure of jadeite is damaged and eventually loses its luster because the polymer deteriorates over time. It cannot withstand heat and pressure.

C Jade (artificially dyed)
Jadeite that is dyed to enhance its brightness, though the artificial color will fade over time.

B + C Jade ( artificially treated and dyed)
Jade that has been chemically treated AND dyed to enhance its translucency and brightness.

My Favorite Jades

Personally, my favorite jade has always been Black Jadeite. The allure of power and mystery of Black Jadeite have made it increasingly popular recently, and designers have started utilizing it more and more in their collections.

A few of my other favorites include:

Icy Jade

Pure white and translucent, this variety of jade is extremely rare.

Christies Icy Jadeite Bangles

Icy Jadeite Bangles sold for HK $ 740,000
Image: Christie’s Images Ltd.

Mayan Imperial or Princess Jade

This is actually a variety of Omphacite, also known as “inky jade”. Upon first glance this stone looks black, but when held up to the light, it has a high translucency and shines green.

Galactic Gold Jadeiete

The finest black jadeite comes from Guatemala. Unlike Burmese Black Jadeite, which is grayish, Guatemalan Black Jadeite is jet black. Though it is not translucent, it is quite valuable and rare. Black jadeite may also have inclusions of precious metals, such as platinum, gold, and silver and has been called Galactic Gold Jade.

Gold Jade Jaguar  Image: Jade Maya

Gold Jade Jaguar
Image: Jade Maya

Imperial Green

This is the most valuable and rare variety of jadeite. It is an intense, vivid green color that is completely translucent.

Regardless of the market value of Jadeite, the true value comes from within the person who wears it. Like art, its value lies in the eyes of the beholder. Which is your favorite?

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