Jade has been cherished for thousands of years. It is pure and enduring, yet sensuous and luxurious. Jade comes in many colors, such as purple, gray, red and yellow, but green has always been the most prized color. Also prized is the fact that each piece of jade is unique.
A Brief History of Jade
Jade is formed deep within the earth’s hot mantle (± 6000° F). It takes so long for jade to reach the surface of the earth that scientists estimate that most jade is 141-570 million years old.
Prehistoric humans used jade to make decorative items. Found artifacts include simple ornaments fashioned from jade in bead, button and tubular shapes. While we associate jade with China, the earliest known use of naturally occurring jade was found in what is now Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Poland.
Jade has been mined in China since the Stone Age and has been a symbol of status, spirituality, purity, and health for over 9,000 years. By 3,000 BCE, jade was known as “yu” (“royal gem”) and was already an important artistic medium.
For thousands of years, the Chinese have valued jade for its protective and healing properties. It is believed to bring luck and prosperity and help ward away negative and evil spirits. Jade is best worn against the skin where the feel of it can soothe emotional upsets. Also, the natural oils in our bodies maintain jade’s beautiful glow and polish.
Jade Around the World
Japan: Jade is the national stone and artifacts 7,000 years old have been found. Japanese jade is a mixture of white and pale green, as is Korean jade.
Korea: Jade pendants trace back to 850 BCE to 668 CE.
New Zealand: The Maoris used jade (called “punamu”) for ornaments and tools. Jade is found in boulders and pebbles on Mount Cook and elsewhere on South Island.
Myanmar: Today, at least 70% of the highest quality jade is mined in Myanmar’s northern regions.
Mesoamerica: Beginning in 1500 BCE, Guatemala was the sole source of jade in Mesoamerica, and it was the primary carving stone in the Olmec, Mayan and Aztec civilizations and used for decorative items for royalty. After the Spanish conquest, jade in Mesoamerica was rarely, if ever, seen and was soon forgotten.
Canada: Ironically, Chinese settlers were mining for gold in British Columbia when they recognized mother lodes of jade, which was considered worthless at the time on this side of the globe. Tons of jade were shipped to China by the Chinese miners. Mining for jade did not start until the 1970s.
United States: There are jade deposits in Wyoming and Arizona, but the bulk is found in Alaska. It is Alaska’s state gem. The Eskimo of Alaska used jade implements. In 1883, “Jade Mountain” was discovered, likely the source of jade used by the Eskimo.
Russia: Russia did not find its own jade until the 1860s in Siberia. The main deposits remain in Eastern Siberia. Faberge valued jade enough to use it with gold, diamonds, emeralds and rubies.
Jade in Modern Times
Jade jewelry came into fashion in the Western world during the Art Deco period, when a fusion of European and Eastern styles was all the rage.
In the 1920s, the world was recovering from World War I and also enjoying the prosperity that followed it. New forms and concepts were being explored by Pablo Picasso in art, Louis Armstrong in music, and F. Scott Fitzgerald in literature. The approach to jewelry changed as well. Art Deco jewelers turned away from the Art Nouveau style of the turn of the century and toward sharp lines, innovative materials and techniques, and clean design. Jade was a part of this significant movement in jewelry design that included global influences, new technologies, new art, and new materials. As a wearable piece of art, for instance, a jade bracelet came to represent the social confluences of the Art Deco period and the new place of women in the world where jewelry symbolized her cultural and intellectual prowess.
With celebrities leading the way, hemlines and haircuts became shorter than ever before. Jewelry was evolving to fit into this contemporary look. Stacks of jade bracelets adorned bare arms, necklaces drew attention to plunging necklines, and earrings clung to the edge of bobs to elongate the neck.
The strange green glow of jade provided a new texture to jewelers, and the renowned jewelry designer, Louis Cartier, was the first to incorporate jade into fine jewelry, which opened the flood gates to all the designers who followed.
Examples of Vintage Jade Collectibles
1990s. Pendant depicts a peach tree with two cranes on one side and large peach blossoms with small and large peaches on the other side. Necklace contains various shaped jade beads punctuated with sterling silver Bali beads. Pendant measures 2 inches by 1 ½ inches. Necklace is adjustable from 19 ½ inches to 21 inches long.
Cranes represent good fortune, beauty and harmony. Peach trees and peaches represent the tree of life and are a symbol of unity. Peach blossoms are carried by Chinese brides.
1950s. Simple and Elegant drop earrings made with lavender jade and 14k gold.
1970s. Genuine jade in 18K HGE (Heavy Gold Electroplated) setting.
What to Know Before Shopping for Vintage Jade Jewelry
Grades of Jade
Jade may be enhanced ("stabilized") to improve color and clarity. There’s nothing shady about that. It’s done quite often. In fact, an enhanced stone is worth more than a natural one with a less attractive appearance. It is next to impossible to tell on your own if jade has been treated, so use a merchant who is upfront about the grade of jade, as shown below.
- Type A: Natural and untreated, with only a surface waxing with beeswax.
- Type B: Chemically bleached and then filled with polymer resin to remove impurities, enhance stability, and transparency of the stone.
- Type C: Dyed or stained to change the color. Translucency of the stone is often lost.
- Type B+C: Both bleached and dyed.
Green Gemstones Mistaken for Jade
These are beautiful gemstones that are valued for themselves. It’s simply that they are not jade.
- Aventurine is sometimes called “Indian jade” or “Australian jade,” but it is a type of quartz and not even closely related to jade.
- Serpentine refers to a group of minerals that may look like jade. When polished, it has a waxy luster and green, brown and yellow hues similar to jade, but it is less polished and smooth as jade.
- Malaysia Jade is popular in Asian countries; it is a type of quartz that can look like high-quality jade. It can be dyed any color, but usually found in red, blue, lavender, turquoise, pink, and pure white shades.
- Grossular Garnet (Transvaal Jade) most often is white, but it is also seen in green, red, and yellow. Green grossular garnet looks like jade, but is more affordable due to its abundance. Some merchants call it “Transvaal Jade” to make it sound more exotic.
How to Test for Authenticity
These tests may not absolutely, positively identify authentic jade, but they will quickly eliminate fake jade. Besides, they are very easy for the layperson to do.
You may be surprised to learn that, in jade, flaws are good! They indicate authenticity. Hold the jade under a bright light (with a loupe if possible) and look for impurities that are common. However, if you see bubbles, the stone is not genuine jade.
Authentic jade does not scratch easily. Take a metal object like a needle or a knife and scratch the surface of the jade (somewhere the scratch will not be visible). Real jade cannot be scratched by steel.
Jade is naturally very cool to the touch regardless of the ambient temperature. If it does happen to warm up, it will cool down quickly. Hold the jade in your hand and feel its temperature. If it warms up in your hand, set it aside for several seconds and then pick it up. If it is real jade, it will already be cool.
Watch 4 Tips to Tell if your Jade is Real or Fake
Vintage jade jewelry is plentiful. It is only a matter of finding pieces that “speak” to you as a collector and as a discerning individual. Etsy has an abundance of jade jewelry as well as loose jade gemstones if you want to make your own jewelry. Click here for Etsy jade. Also, check out eBay jade jewelry by clicking here.
Check out my post about the Best Vintage Jewelry Shops on Etsy for a list of our top recommended shops.