Jade has always been the material most highly prized, even above silver and gold.
The former Kingdom of Khotan (today the area in Xinjiang province) used most precious white jade for yearly tribute payments made to the Chinese Imperial court.
Jade’s basic colour is white with a colourless opaqueness and a waxy like appearance. The variation of the colours comes from trace elements (i.e. iron, chromium, magnesia, calcium) within the stone’s chemical formula, creating a colour range from various shades of apple green, bright green and spinach green, delicate violet tones, brown, grades of white, grey, red, reddish and brown tones, shades of blue to black, yellow, and orange.
Generally speaking, the value of jade is determined according to its colour and the intensity of it, the lustre, texture, clarity and transparency.
Jades often have veins, blemishes and streaks running through them, though these may not always be regarded as flaws. On the contrary, some of these patterns are considered particularly valuable.
The so called ‘imperial emerald green’ colour of the gem stone is the most expensive one.
Because of the colour range, jade has always been a perfect gem stone.
Jade was utilised for rituals and ceremonies, giving jade a sacrificial and religious character, and used as utilitarian jade for indoor decoration and personal adornment, hence limning the owner’s social status.
'Jade' is strictly speaking a generic term for two different gem stones, nephrite and jadeite (see below), but the two gem stones share many qualities, such as the hardness of the stone, the appearance and its associated symbolism.
Jade cannot be carved. Because of its hardness, it is said jade’s character is harder than steel, it can rarely be shaped by chiselling or chipping, but must be worn away by abrasion with tools and hard sand pastes. This is a process that requires immense patience, even with modern tools it remains laborious.
Because the process was and is so labour-intensive and time-consuming, the stone so hard, jade symbolises certain qualities and was embodied with human virtues: hardness, durability, constancy, purity, energy, grace and beauty.
Jade reflected the ability of a ruling elite to command resources, and therefore came to symbolize power, nobility, status and prestige as well as immortality and hence linking humans (especially higher ranking ones) to the spiritual world.
The mouthpieces of some opium pipes were made out of jade, due to the belief that breathing through jade would bestow longevity upon smokers who used such a pipe.
In the Olympic Games 2008 the Gold Medals were made of gold and had an inlay of white jade on the back, symbolizing nobility and virtue, the embodiment of traditional Chinese values of ethic and honour.
In China jade is still seen as containing properties that promote good health, good luck and protection.
Cao Gou Jiu one of the Eight Immortals is attributed with a jade tablet, that can purify the air.
For gemstone therapy believers, jade 'stimulates creativity and mental agility, having a balancing and harmonising effect.'
Jadeite, also referred to as soft jade, is a variety of pyroxene, a sodium and aluminium silicate, NaAlSi2O6, composed of interlocking and very compact crystals.
Jadeite is rarer found than nephrite.
Jadeite shows more colour variations, including white, grey, blue, green, lavender-mauve, yellow orange, reddish, pink, violet, brown and black. Translucent emerald-green jadeite is the most prized and most expensive variety of jade.
Mostly jadeite shows light to dark green.
Polished jadeite has a glassy, vitreous, vivid lustre.
Nephrite jade is also referred to as the hard jade. Nephrite, a variety of mineral actinolite, is a calcium and magnesium silicate, Ca2(Mg,Fe)5Si8O22(OH)2, composed of fibrous intertwined crystals.
Compared, nephrite is less expensive than jadeite, since it s more widespread.
Nephrite shows mainly the colour variation: creamy white, slightly yellow, grey, green, and at times topaz, reddish and black.
Nephrite's robustness is due to the fact that it contains the mineral tremolite.
Polished nephrite has a surface with a resinous lustre, opaque at times.
Nephrite is also called axe-stone, Beilstein (in German; Beil= hatchet, axe, Stein= stone), kidney stone, tomb- or grave stone.
JADE AND TIME
In prehistoric times jade was esteemed rather more for its toughness, which made it an ideal material for weapons, axes, knifes and tools.
Additionally, neolithic jades are often found in burial sites of the elite class.
Jade was worn by kings and nobles and after death placed with them in the tomb in a way of burial suits made of pieces of jade. Plaques were often joined by means of wire, threaded through small holes drilled near the corners of each piece in order to obtain a jade burial suit.
The jade burial suits of emperors used gold thread; princes, princesses, and other high ranking noblemen used silver thread; sons or daughters of those given used copper thread; and lesser aristocrats used silk thread. It was forbidden for anybody else to be buried in jade burial suits.
Jade was regarded as an aid to attaining immortality, protecting the body from decay.
In other dynasties and for the above mentioned reason, deceased were not only buried with jade objects, but jade plugs and jade tiles were inserted in the body’s openings, such as the mouth, i.e. a jade cicadas on a tongue of a deceased represented rebirth.
Early dynastic jades also took the form of belt hooks, archer's rings, and guards for swords. During the earliest Chinese dynasties, the Shang (1600- 1046 BC) and the Zhou (1122- 256 BC), pendants became an increasingly popular adornment.
Through the centuries, jade ornamentation had become increasingly codified, so that by the Han dynasty (206 BC- 220 AD) its use as a means of distinguishing one's social class was firmly entrenched.
In the Ming (1368– 1644 AD) and Qing periods (1644– 1911 AD) ancient jade shapes and decorative patterns were often copied, thereby bringing the associations of the distant past.
As a physical manifestation of spiritual virtue, Chinese refer to jade in various expressions:
‘The wise have likened jade to virtue. For them, its polish and brilliancy represent the whole of purity; its perfect compactness and extreme hardness represent the sureness of intelligence; its angles, which do not cut, although they seem sharp, represent justice; the pure and prolonged sound, which it gives forth when one strikes it, represents music. Its colour represents loyalty; its interior flaws, always showing themselves through the transparency, call to mind sincerity; its iridescent brightness represents heaven; its admirable substance, born of mountain and of water, represents the earth. Used alone without ornamentation it represents chastity. The price that the entire world attaches to it represents the truth.’
‘When I think of a wise man, his merits appear to be like jade.’
'Unpolished jade never shines,' indicating that one cannot be a useful person if one is not educated.
Thai Chinese appreciate the figurines ‘Gek Nueng - Dek Gim Tong’ (First Jade- Golden Child), representing a girl and a boy.
In ancient times, girls were named ‘Jade’ to reflect the love of their parents.