Jade: A Cultural Icon
“Gold is temporary; Jade is forever” -Confucius. Typically known for proverbs and idioms, Confucius famously praised the green gemstone in an ancient text, as this stone has been at the center of Chinese culture for thousands of years. Technically a mineral, Jade is either of Nephrite material or Jadeite, the latter of which is more commonly used in jewelry. While not quite as celebrated outside of Asia, untreated jades of Jadeite material, known as “Jadeite A Jade”, have reached values that put it easily on par with other precious gemstones– including diamonds.
When it comes to Jade quality, grading and assessing quality is nothing like that of diamonds or even other precious gemstones– in fact, gemological laboratories will only test for the material (Jadeite vs. Nephrite) and for quality treatment. Color saturation and clarity factor into Jade quality and value, though the most important factor is translucence (partial or diffused transparency). Not only are Jade qualities not standardized, but size is not as relevant to value as it is with other gemstones, as they typically aren’t even measured in carats. Most jade jewels of superlative quality aren’t even set in standard jewelry, but rather fashioned into bead necklaces or large bangles!
While prized by European and American collectors of Asian Art, jade as a cultural symbol is more pronounced in China. Much is made of antique jewelry eras such as Art Deco or of the Royal Jewels in Great Britain, but the 5,000+ year old collection of Jade artefacts and Jade antiques of Chinese lore is beyond comparison. Emperor Qin Shi Huang unified China in 221 BC after times of war, and chose the legendary “Heshibi (和氏璧)” as the Imperial Seal of the new Kingdom of China. This remains a renowned story in chinese folklore, with TV series portraying the story produced to this day! Ancient Chinese would bury royalty with Jade in their caskets, as it was meant to preserve their bodies and souls. Jade carvings, disks, statues, figures, and–of course– jewelry, remain of superlative value.