Jade is traditionally linked to Chinese culture due to its extensive history with the precious gemstone. In fact, iconic Asian movies and novels always have an important person sporting some sort of jade jewelry to show off their wealth and riches.
However, Jade has intrigued people of all cultures. From zodiac gemstones to being the official gemstone for several states, jade now an iconic gemstone for many. In fact, other cultures have had a long history with jade too, including the native population of North America and New Zealand. But, where did this love of jade come from? What was the origin of the word “jade?”
What is the Science behind Jade?
There are two major types of natural jade: hard jade (jadeite) and soft jade (nephrite). The “hardness” in this context refers to the jade’s durability, and the most durable jade in the world is often considered to be the finest.
Hard jade is typically the more valuable type of jade and ranks 6.5 – 7 on the Mohs scale. It was made from stones being moved by glaciers due to tectonic plate movements. As the tectonic plates move under and over each other, the Earth will heat and build pressure in the lower tectonic plate, forming jade. If glaciers continue moving jade for centuries, it will form jadeite. This is the higher priced jade, as the process allows “only the highest of the high quality of jade to survive.” Jadeite is found in Myanmar (Burma), Japan, Canada, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkey, Cuba, and the United States.
Nephrite is considered the softer jade due to its lower durability. Unlike jadeite, nephrite takes less time to form from the Earth’s heat and pressure. Ranking 6 – 6.5 on the Mohs scale, both types of jade possess exceptional durability. Nephrite can be found in New Zealand, Australia, China, Zimbabwe, Russia, Taiwan, and Alaska.
Jade is also found as nuggets in rivers across China. In fact, many miners come to pick jade nuggets for themselves and sell the jade “off the bucket.”
What is the Origin of Jade?
The word “jade” comes from the Spanish expression, “Piedra de ijada.” This literally translates to “stone of the pain in the side”, and comes from Spanish explorers observing the natives using gemstone therapy to treat illnesses. They would hold jade against the patient’s sides to get rid of illnesses.
Meanwhile, the Chinese called jade 玉 (or yù). This is closely related to the word for Emperor, which is 王 (wáng). This is significant because the Chinese language uses half the character to convey the meaning of the word, while the other half is closely used to dictate the pronunciation of the character. Since 玉 (jade) and 王 (emperor) is so closely related, it shows how the Chinese valued jade as the royal gemstone. In fact, many Chinese proverbs use the word 玉(jade) to express one’s beauty, grace, elegance, and importance. For example, if you call someone a 玉女 (or a “jade woman”), you are saying that she is a beautiful maiden beyond compare.
Although jade was initially used for tools and weapons due to its durability, the gemstone was eventually used to showcase exquisite craftsmanship and flaunt wealth. This is why so many people wear jade as a social status symbol.
What is the Symbolism of Jade?
In Chinese culture, jade is the symbol of prosperity, success, and good luck. Therefore, the Chinese sought out to find the best jade because the higher the quality of the jade, the bigger the blessing. Despite mixed accounts of when China began to deem jade as the royal gemstone, there is one thing that experts agreed upon: China used nephrite initially, but now favors jadeite due to its stronger lattice structure. Myanmar (Burma) introduced jadeite to China, hence the start of a long love story between the gemstone and the people. Jade would influence the world by traveling through the Silk Road, the major trading road that connected the East to the West.
Today, China is still the biggest market for Jade. A 2013 Harvard Report estimated that the jade industry is worth $8 billion annually, and proves that the traditional symbolism is still attached to this gemstone today. Jade is deemed as one of the most expensive gemstones out there.
Although emerald green jade is by far the most popular (and expensive) choice, other jades in different colors are increasingly popular! Not only is jade more accessible thanks to improvements in technology, jade feels luxurious due to its cultural significance across the world. More and more people are interested in jade due to its high value and long history with one of the oldest countries of the world.
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