Jade Onyx Carnelian
Jade reigns as the universal symbol for good luck and has been treasured in China as the royal gemstone for 5,000 years. The Chinese character for jade resembles a capital “I” with a line across the middle. The top of the character represents the heavens, the bottom the Earth and the center section humankind. It has been considered a symbol of love, virtue and status for thousands of years and remains popular today. Jade is traditionally given as a 12th anniversary gift and is believed to strengthen the body and bring longevity to life.
Jade is the term applied to forms of both jadeite and nephrite. The ancient jade carved in China was what we today call nephrite. In the nineteenth century, it was discovered that the material from the new world was not the same mineral as the jade from China. This new and different jade from Central America was called jadeite to distinguish it from the original nephrite. Both are similar in appearance, yet jadeite is considered the true jade and commands higher prices. Though both are quite durable and tough, ranking 6.5-7.0 on Mohs Scale, jadeite is slightly harder than nephrite due to its microcrystalline structure.
Jadeite has a much more vivid green color with finer translucency than nephrite. It is most treasured for its vivid greens, but it also comes in lavender, pink, yellow and white. Nephrite, however, is found in less intense spinach green, white, brown and black colors. While overall color is the most important factor in considering the value of jade, other important criteria are translucency, texture and pattern. Jade is most often sold by the piece rather than per carat. Because of its smooth and even texture, it has long been a preferred material for carving. When placed in jewelry, it is usually cut into smooth dome shapes called cabochons.
Jadeite is primarily mined in Myanmar. Each year, the state-owned Myanmar Gems Enterprise holds the Myanmar Gems, Jade and Pearl Emporium where boulders are sold to top jade dealers from around the world. The dealers take some high-risk gambles with the jade boulders they purchase. Boulders are sold intact, with only a tiny window cut in the side to expose a small section of the interior. The buyer has no idea what lies inside, whether there is valuable green jadeite or only white or brown-stained inexpensive material. Relying on instinct, buyers pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for what may turn out to be exquisite gemstones or huge losses.
The most valuable form of jadeite is known as imperial jade. It is a vivid emerald green color and comes from Myanmar. The Emerald Buddha, a sacred image that is enshrined at Wat Phra Kaeo in Bangkok, Thailand, is actually beautiful green jadeite. A leek green variety called "Russian Jade" is found near Lake Baikal in Russia. In addition to Myanmar, small quantities of jadeite can be found in Mexico and Central and South America, while nephrite is mined in Australia, Canada, Taiwan and the United States.
In ancient China, Jade was thought to preserve the body after death and was placed in emperors' tombs. One tomb contained an entire suit made of jade, thought to assure the physical immortality of its owner. In Central America, the Olmecs, Mayans and Toltecs also treasured jade and used it for carvings and masks. In Europe, although prehistoric axes and blades carved from jade have been found by archeologists, the gemstone was not popular for jewelry use until the sixteenth century when jade objects were imported from China and, later, Central America. The Portuguese brought home jade pieces from their settlement in China and called jade “piedre de ilharga,” which meant “stone of the loins” because they believed it to be strong medicine for kidney ailments. Jade objects brought to Spain were called by the Spanish version of this phrase, “piedra de hijada.” This became the French word “ejade,” which led to the English word jade.
Onyx is a variety of chalcedony quartz that features a fine texture with a smooth black color. Some onyx can display white bands or ribbons against black or brown backgrounds. Mined in Brazil, India, California and Uruguay, most onyx today is color-enhanced to increase its depth of color. It ranks a 6.5 on the Mohs Scale and is an ideal stone for carving. In fact, it is a favorite material of lapidary artists.
Onyx was very popular with the ancient Greeks and Romans. The name comes from the Greek word “onux,” which means fingernail. Legend says that one day frisky Cupid cut the divine fingernails of Venus with an arrowhead while she was sleeping. He left the clippings scattered on the sand and the fates turned them into stone so that no part of her heavenly body would ever perish. In Greek times, almost all colors of chalcedony were called onyx. Later, the Romans narrowed the term to refer to only the black and dark brown colors, while the reddish brown and white onyx became known as sardonyx. Highly valued in Rome, sardonyx was especially used for seals because it was said to never stick to the wax. Roman General Publius Cornelius Scipio was famous for wearing sardonyx.
Worn during mourning in the Victorian age, onyx is now traditionally given as a 7th wedding anniversary gift. It is thought to increase happiness, intuition and instincts. The stone is also believed to cool the yearnings of love and decrease sexual desire.
Carnelian, also spelled cornelian, ranges in color from light brownish-red, to dark reddish-orange, to deep transparent red, to bright orange. The rich color is due to the iron content and can be placed in the sun to change brown tints to red. A translucent to opaque stone, carnelian is moderately hard with a hardness of 6.5-7.0 on the Mohs Scale. This relatively inexpensive gem features great warmth and beauty and is often found as engraved cameos in antique jewelry. It is the stone of happiness and harmony in love.
Some of the oldest examples of jewelry contain carnelian and it has been featured in nearly every great civilization. The greatest myths surrounding the stone come from the Egyptian culture. At an excavation site in Ur, archaeologists uncovered the tomb of Pu-Abi, a Sumerian Queen from the third millennium, B.C. She wore a robe that contained carnelian, along with other precious and semi-precious materials. Ancient Egyptian tombs are full of examples of carnelian jewels because of the Egyptians’ belief in the stone’s power in the afterlife. According to their system, the Egyptian goddess Isis used amulets of carnelian to ensure a soul’s safe passage into the next world. The Egyptians so revered the power of the stone that it was one of three used most often in their jewelry, along with turquoise and lapis lazuli. Carnelian was a symbol of life in Pharaonic Egypt, and adorns the precious funerary pectoral of Tutankhamon.
Because carnelian has been revered for its healing, spiritual and creative qualities, Buddhists in China and India created amulets inlaid with carnelian and other semi-precious stones, ascribing to them powers of protection and utilizing them for many rituals. To this day, Buddhists in China, India and Tibet believe in the protective powers of carnelian and often follow the Egyptian practice of setting the stone with turquoise and lapis lazuli for enhanced power. The stone also appears in the Bible as one of the stones included on Aaron’s breastplate.
Carnelian has been recommended as an aid for anyone having a weak voice or being reluctant to speak. The belief was that carrying or wearing carnelian would give the person courage both to speak boldly and loudly. In fact, Napoleon is recorded to have carried one he found in Egypt and to have had faith in it as a talisman. Perhaps he followed the belief reported by Merrill: “The wearing of carnelian insured victory in all contests save those of love.”
Carnelian is a form of chalcedony, which is the microcrystalline form of quartz. Because quartz is the most common crystal on Earth, deposits of carnelian are found throughout the world. The most famous sites are in India, Brazil, Uruguay and Japan. The deposits are usually found in the lower temperature and lower pressure zones near the Earth’s surface, but the best carnelian is found in India.