JADE: Nephrite & Jadeite

Jade jewelry and objects d'art are highly collectible and in most cases carry a hefty price tag. To understand the types of jade and the values associated with each, one needs to know some basic facts.

  • Jade comes in many more colors than just green. Pure jade is white, but depending on the impurities present, it can be found in shades of blue, lavender, yellow, red, gray and black.
  • China is the first country most people think of as a source country, however, jade has also been found in Burma (Myanmar), Central and South America, Europe, Asia, and parts of Polynesia (New Zealand).
  • There are two types of jade: (1) Nephrite, (2) Jadeite

In spite of the fact that they both share some similarities, i.e., hardness, in order to determine if an item is Nephrite or Jadeite, one needs to know the differences between the two. The differences lie in their chemical composition, crystalline structure, and specific hardness based on the Mohs Scale.


  1. Chemical composition - Calcium-magnesium silicate in the amphibole group of minerals
  2. Crystalline structure is built of long fibrous crystals closely matted
  3. Specific gravity of about 3.0 (varies from 2.9 - 3.1)
  4. Mohs scale - 6.5


  1. Chemical composition - Sodium aluminum silicate
  2. Crystalline structure is made of groups of small granular crystals in the pyroxene group of minerals
  3. Specific gravity of 3.33
  4. Mohs scale - 6.75

All of this is rather technical, so how would you test for jade using simple methods if out in the field? Since both Nephrite and Jadeite jade are relatively hard, they cannot be scratched with the blade of a pocket knife. This method can be used to test for jade (in an obscure place), however, is not a reliable test since the item may scratch if the surface has been treated, burned or buried for a long time. **

Other more simple observations can be made to determine the type of jade if the item has been polished or carved.

Jade jewelry

  • Nephrite has a much less glossy finish than jadeite
  • Nephrite may be a dark green due to the presence of iron (ferrous silicate) while jadeite will tend to shades of apple-green and emerald green colors. Imperial jade being the most desired and pricey.
  • Jadeite tends to be more translucent when a light is shown through it.

Typically, China has a well-known reputation for spectacularly carved jade figures, some dating back thousands of years, but you'll also find jade used in the making of fine jewelry - both past and present. Many well known artists today use jade - both jadeite and nephrite- as a medium for pendants, bracelets and rings with the jadeite pieces more often than not commanding a higher price.

Mutton fat jadeThis is not to say all nephrite is less desirable. Some items made from what is called 'mutton fat' jade (white and appears to look like congealed fat) is highly sought after. For some excellent reference books on Jade, visit Amazon.

(Some pictures used in this article courtesy Jade by J.P. Palmer)

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