Real jade comes in a variety of colors and textures, while at the same time other green minerals that aren’t true jade may be labeled as if they were. True jade is always one of two minerals: jadeite or nephrite. While they’re similar in hardness, weight, and other physical properties, there are some differences between the two:
The term “Jade” can refer to several minerals, but its traditional properties correspond amazingly well. Chinese nephrite jade and ancient Mesoamerican jadeite were both held to be the most precious stones, and are associated with wealth and luck in life as well as good standing in the afterlife. In both cultures, burial practices included jade: in China, pieces of jade were pressed into the nine body openings of the deceased, while in Mesoamerica mourners placed a piece of jade on the deceased’s tongue to serve as his or her heart in the afterlife. It’s truly amazing to see this amount of correspondence between cultures who had no way of knowing about each other!
Jadeite is made up of small, granular crystals, which give it a “sugary” appearance. Pure jadeite is white, but inclusions of other minerals can give it wide range of greens, pinks, blues, lavenders, and other colors. Green jadeite gets it’s color from iron inclusions, and parts of it may age to a rusty color. Imperial Jade is a high-grade, semi-translucent form of jadeite colored with manganese. Since jadeite is the rarer of the two forms of true jade, it will usually be marked as such in stores.
Nephrite is the more common form, so if you see something simply marked “jade,” it will usually be nephrite. It’s got a fibrous inner structure, giving it a silky appearance. The color range is more limited than that of jadeite; nephrite is usually the classic “jade green,” though if it’s dark enough it may appear black. There’s also a white variety known as “mutton fat” jade which (despite the sort of gross name) is very valuable. Another variation is Inca jade, which is nephrite with inclusions of pyrite.
To make things more confusing, other minerals that aren’t really jade at all are sometimes called jade. Here are a few we’ve run across, along with what they actually are:
- New Jade (serpentine)
- Indian Jade (aventurine)
- Olivine Jade (peridot)
- Infinite Jade (serpentine)
- California jade (vesuvianite or serpentine)
Also, just about any green mineral you can think of will sometimes be labeled as jade: “amazonite jade,” “olivine jade,” “serpentine jade,” etc. Reputable dealers will always tell you what you’re really getting, but between all the colors and names it can get really confusing! The most common false jade, serpentine, even looks a lot like nephrite jade, though it’s quite a bit softer.
Because true jade is a hard, dense stone, it has been used for tools, jewelry and ornamental objects for a very long time. Until trade developed, most jade used in both China and Europe was nephrite. But once China started importing jadeite from Myanmar, it became very popular there. Conquistadors brought jadeite home to Spain from the new world, where the Incas used it to cure internal organs such as the liver and kidneys. They called it piedra de las ijadas (stone of the loins), which through translation and time gave us the name “jade.” Interestingly, nephrite jade had also long been used as a cure for internal organs; in fact the name comes from nephrus, Latin for kidney.
The Chinese traditionally associate both forms of jade with health, longevity, prosperity and power — especially when carved into associated figures such as dragons.
The ultimate stone of good fortune is yu, the heavenly stone. Jade was considered to be yang energy in physical form. People wore jade bangles for protection against illness. If they became seriously ill, the bangle would break and they would recover. If they were wearing the bangle and were involved in an accident, they would come out unharmed. People even ate powdered jade, and it was sometimes used in burials with the idea that the body would be preserved.
Jade is also called a dream stone. It is associated with astral travel, dream states, and encountering the spiritual world. Because of this, and because of its traditional association with rejuvenation, some people sleep with jade. You can even find jade pillows online, though unfortunately we don’t carry them at Mimosa!
One special variation is black jade. An intensely grounding stone, black jade may be either nephrite or jadeite (nephrite is more common). It gets its color from inclusions of graphite or iron. This is a powerful protective stone, a great tool to help avert harm from psychic or energetic “vampires.” And as it helps defend your energy field, it also acts as an aid to looking inward for self-knowledge and access to the world of spirits, especially through shamanic journeying.
Some forms of jade (jadeite) contain aluminum and iron, and therefore should not be used to make elixirs.