How to Tell Genuine Jade (From Fake Jade)

This is a bit of a promotional video we found on YouTube but it contains some great points–real jade is translucent (it has “flower”) and it is very hard.

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Chinese Jade Carving

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Jade Prices at Auction Going Up

Check out this short video about increasing jade prices. While the auction house is talking about ivories and other precious artifacts, Chinese jade is appreciating in price in response to the popularity of jade particularly among Chinese and other Asian collectors.

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Jade Prices Increase

jade keeps going up in priceIt is always difficult to talk about the price of jade or the price of any gemstone, because price depends on many factors including the quality of the stone and its carving and what a prospective buyer is willing to spend. However, for the past several years, media (including Forbes) have been reporting that jade prices are going up. In fact, in 2010, Forbes said that in some parts of the world, the price of jade, ounce for ounce, surpassed the price of gold.

What is driving the upsurge in jade prices? (And don’t think these are modest gains, either. In some markets, the price of jade has increased as much as 50% over the past few years, and that estimate may be conservative.)

Short answer: China. The Chinese economy is in a state of transition and more money is in the hands of more people. The Chinese culture has always emphasized frugality and wealth-building, so it is no surprise that Chinese who suddenly have disposable income are going to seek to invest it. For a long time, Chinese investors looked to real estate as the best pick, but in the past few years, precious stones have gained a lot of attention. Chinese have traditionally viewed gold as a great investment (along with every other culture on earth), but with jade prices outpacing gold, it is no wonder that jade looks suddenly quite attractive.

Secondly, Chinese have a rich tradition of jade carving. As jade prices rise, these familiar and long-beloved objects take on new meaning as investment pieces.

Finally, the world of jade is in transition, too. Granted, it’s a transition proceeding at glacial speed, but it is still a transition. In the 20th century, rich deposits of jadeite were found in remote areas of Myanmar (Burma). Jadeite is technically not the same stone as nephrite, which is the stone the ancient Chinese carved. However, jadeite is accepted by China as genuine jade and has become super-desirable. Jadeite tends to be more brilliant in color but it can often take an expert to distinguish certain pieces of jadeite from nephrite. At any rate, jadeite is now the more collectible and pricier stone.

What does this mean to you? If you love jade and would collect and wear it anyway, it should make you feel better about your pieces as “investments.” For collectors interested in making money in jade, this is still a very delicate area. While the price of jade has definitely increased markedly in the past few years, buying and selling jade–and doing it profitably–is a complex business and one that few part-timers or amateurs can do well. In short, unless you are willing to approach jade trading as a career, it is probably not a way to make a quick profit.

On the other hand, it does mean that jade is valuable. Will jade keep rising in price? If the factors driving it up remain the same–disposable cash in the hands of people who see jade as a good investment option in a volatile economy–jade is likely to keep rising in price.

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The Three Big Questions for Serious Jade Collectors

ascertaining quality jadeIf you are a serious collector of jade or if you just want to take your jade collecting seriously, there are three big questions that always get asked.Unfortunately, these three big questions are not always easy to answer!

1. Is this jade genuine?

2. Is this jade Chinese?

3. Is this jade old?

Now if you are just buying jade to wear or use as a decorative item, the main question that ought to concern you is how much you like the particular item. But if you want to purchase high-value jade, you ought to be seeking out genuine jade items from China that are very old.

When it comes to jade, both jadeite and nephrite count as “genuine jade.” But when it comes to ancient jade, the Chinese did not carve jadeite until around the 18th century, so all ancient Chinese jade is going to be nephrite. This doesn’t mean that jadeite isn’t valuable (it actually is) but it is not going to be ancient. There are a few ways to identify genuine jade: it is heavy and it is hard. However, jade fakes can be made, including glass. When in doubt, consult a jade expert. And be aware that there can pure jade is a rarity, most jade is part jade mixed with other elements. Jade is a metamorphic rock made from layers of sediment, so there are almost always inclusions. Real jade is considered to be any stone that is 50% or more jade.

Chinese carved jade is the most valuable type, but there are Mesoamerican jade carvings and other types of jade carving that can be valuable, too. Most experts who evaluate the authenticity of jade are going to look for stylistic elements that identify it as Chinese. Chinese artists tended to have certain styles at certain time periods (this helps with dating jade) and there are uniquely Chinese aspects to jade carving.

The age of jade can be very difficult to determine, even for experts. All jade is old–rocks are rocks after all and none of them were made yesterday. Old jade generally refers to jade that was carved a long time ago. For this, experts look at stylistic elements. “Fake” jade can be carved to look ancient, but experts evaluate stylistic elements and markings from tools to see what is real and what is not. Complicating this is the fact that some Chinese artists paid homage to older artists by copying their work. This was not done to deceive; it was a way of learning the craft of jade carving and honoring older artists. For that reason, style alone can be deceptive.

Be aware that sometimes jade is altered. It can be dyed or weathered to look older. If you are buying jade for your own pleasure only, these artificial enhancements are fine, but they can adversely impact the value.


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The Canadian Jade Mines

Jade is big news in Canada and is the official gemstone of British Columbia. Nephrite jade deposits in British Columbia are being actively mined since the 1950s. Winnie Robertson is credited as one of the “jade finders” who helped first find some of the areas rich in jade deposits. In 1971, one of the areas she discovered for mining produced about 30 or 40 tons of jade annually.

The jade in Canada is nephrite and is mainly found in British Columbia. Most of this jade is shipped to China and other parts of the world for carving, since it can be carved more cost effectively there and China has a rich tradition of jade carving.


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Carving Jade

elaborately carved white jadeThe value and beauty of jade –like that of a diamond–is not so much based on the stone itself but rather how it is carved or cut. Carving jade is an ancient art. Jade has been carved exquisitely since ancient time, many centuries before the birth of Christ. The earliest jade carvers used grit, gravel, or pumice to shape jade, an exceedingly time-consuming process. As metal was discovered and forged, bronze tools were fashioned which could then help shape the stone.

In China, carving jade was considered a very important task. It did not necessarily pay well, but the people who performed this job were supposed to understand the gravity of their work. Most Chinese carvers learned their work as apprentices, where they were charged to copy ancient masterpieces to learn how to handle jade.

It can take many months or even years to carve an elaborate piece of jade. The work must be done methodically but with utmost precision. A particular challenge in carving jade is that large stones are somewhat mysterious–the carver can see the surface but not why lies beneath. If there are flaws or problems below the surface, these can complicate the carving.

Simple jade carvings can be done in much less time and with less expertise.

intricately carved green jade spheres-in-spheresThis is an example of the incredible intricacy of some carving, a series of spheres within spheres, all with a carefully carved surface.

When evaluating jade for authenticity and age, experts will sometimes examine the carvings to see if they can determine the type of tools used to make the carving. Understanding the tools can give an idea as to date. Today, jade may be carved with diamond tools, a resource unknown to ancient artisans.

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Buying Jade: Real, Fake, Does It Matter?

light jade pendantWhen buying jade (or any gemstone) you have to get honest with yourself about your motives. Are you mainly out to buy something pretty that pleases you? If that’s the case, it may be incidental whether or not the “jade” you’re buying is real or not. Inexpensive costume jewelry is a wonderful thing and if you just want to buy things you like, you can use price points to steer you to the right items and not worry too much over whether or not you’re buying something genuine or not.

However, many of us want to invest in genuine jade and we’d like that jade to be of high enough quality to maintain its value, if not increase over the years. For such buyers, the piece has to please us first and then stand up to inspection. Genuine jade comes in many colors but, as a rule of thumb, the most valuable jade is the jade with the most vibrant color. Translucent jade often is more valuable than the more cloudy or opaque variety. As for color, green jade is the most traditional type and, as such, can be counted on to maintain its value (because green jade will almost always be in demand). White jade of high quality is considered the most valuable–but then again, it depends on who’s buying and who’s selling.

However, there are no hard and fast rules here–you can find a piece of red jade that will be more valuable than a similar piece of green jade. In China, white jade is also considered a particularly valuable type, especially if the white is nearly translucent.

But today we want to focus not so much on relative value but whether the jade is genuine.

Jade is pretty easy to fake. In much of the West, there are not that many jade experts. In shops and online, it’s pretty easy to pass any number of stones off as “jade.” After all, it comes in a variety of colors and is sometimes clear and sometimes opaque. That description covers a lot of ground! Plus there are also synthetic versions of jade. Some jade is actually jade, but it has been enhanced with dyes or other treatments to improve its sales appeal. This may not matter if you just want something pretty to wear, but altered jade is not valuable.

There are two great tests to see if the jade you want to buy is really jade. Both require a bit of expertise but they are easy to do and if you are around jade very much, you’ll quickly get the hang of this.

  1. The first jade test is the heaviness test. Real jade (both jadeite and nephrite) is a comparatively heavy stone. In fact, if you have similar items made of glass and jade, the jade item will feel noticeably heavier.
  2. The second jade test is the cool test.  Jade cools quickly and tends to remain at a cool temperature. If you want to test an item to see if it’s real jade, hold it in your hand until it warms up. Hold it long enough that the jade gets to be body temperature. Quickly put the jade down and come back about a minute later. If it’s jade, that is long enough for it to cool back down. If you can’t tell with your hand, use the tip of your tongue–it’s very sensitive. If it’s cool on your tongue, it’s jade.

Although it is much harder to test, real jade is very strong (stronger than steel) and it’s very tough. It is harder to break a piece of jade than a piece of glass. If you can do this (and please get the owner’s permission) you can try to nick the jade with the blade of a pen knife. Jade is harder and should not be scratched by this.

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Earliest Use of Jade

Jade has been part of human history since as far back as archaeologists can dig. In ancient sites, jade beads and buttons have been excavated. Jade was sometimes used to form blades or knives; there are examples of ancient jade swords.

The use of jade in this way was impractical. When metalworking became more familiar and abundant, jade blades quickly gave way to bronze and iron.

This didn’t diminish the role of jade in ancient society, however. Jade was still used for ornamentation and decoration. Jade beads were created for value as well as beauty. Ancient Chinese artifacts show that jade was often used to create ceremonial objects, such as items used for burials.

Since jade could be carved by the metallic tools that supplanted its role in weaponry, jade carvings soon became a medium to create exquisite and highly revered forms of decoration. Since jade was a symbol of luck and prosperity, jade carvings were often done in the form of idols or charms or symbols of luck (such as the elephant).

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Jadeite and Nephrite are Both Genuine Jade

The incredible versatility of jade owes to the many variations you find in natural jade stone. Actually, there are two different stones that today we call jade. They are the so-called “nephrite” and “jadite.”

Neprhite jade contains a lot of calcium, magnesium, and iron. In fact, the more iron in the jade, the greener it appears. But nephrite can also be pale green or even milky colored. In China, this nearly-white form of nephrite is nicknamed “mutton fat” jade.

Neprhite jade gets its name from a Latin-based word for “kidneys” because in ancient times, it was believed that this gemstone had healing properties that were particularly beneficial for people with kidney ailments.

Jadeite is a kind of mineral with a lot of sodium and aluminum in it. There is a great deal of color variation in jadeite, including hints of blue and violet and pink. Jadeite and nephrite are very similar in appearance, but jadeite is harder.

To rock hounds, these are different stones … but in the jade world, both are considered “types” of jade. In fact, both are recognized as “genuine jade.”

Jadeite is rarer than nephrite jade and generally considered more valuable. The most valuable form of jadeite is a transluscent but deep emerald green.

Don’t think of jade as something totally Oriental. “Quetzal” jade is a bright green jadeite from Guatemala. Jadeite comes almost exclusively from Myanmar (Burma). The Canadian province of British Columbia has named nephrite jade its official gemstone. (It’s also the official state gemstone of Wyoming.) You may also be able to find indigenous nephrite jade on the Atlantic Coast of North America, Southeast Asia, and parts of Europe.


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