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.
One of the oldest known gems, turquoise has been prized for thousands of years. The Egyptians believed it had powerful mystical properties, and turquoise jewelry has been found interred with 7,500-year-old mummies. Ancient manuscripts from Persia, India, Afghanistan and Arabia say that the health of a person wearing turquoise could be assessed by variations in the color of the stone. Montezuma’s treasure, now displayed in the British Museum, includes a carved serpent covered by a mosaic of turquoise.
Turquoise was especially revered by the Native American culture, an association that dates back to the Aztec empire more than 700 years ago. For the Aztecs, turquoise was reserved for the gods and mere mortals were forbidden to wear it. They believed it to be a gem of good fortune and a commodity more valuable than gold. Native Americans believed turquoise protected people from demons and they even placed turquoise in tombs to guard the dead. The stone’s colors were thought to be symbolically blue for the heavens and green for the earth. Often warriors tied turquoise to their bows to ensure accurate shots.
Today, turquoise is still believed to provide protection and bring luck. It is said to also promote prosperity, love, healing, courage and friendship. The stone is thought to relax the mind and ease mental tension.
The gem’s opaque turquoise color varies from shades of greenish blue to deep cobalt to sky blue. Some varieties display white or brown matrixes, which are streaks of the mother stone from which they came, while others have veins of color called “spiderwebs” running through them. Generally, the bluer the blue, the more highly valued the stone. A clear, even texture without mottling or veins is also preferred. The most rare and valuable color is an intense azure, but the most common is the mild to medium sky blue. Sometimes imitated by minerals such as chrysocolla, turquoise stones are often dyed or colored with coatings of various resins.
In the 13th century, turquoise was mistakenly believed to have come from the country of Turkey. Hence, its name came from the French word for Turkey, “Turquie.” The stone was actually brought to Europe from Persia (now Iran), via Turkey. It is a mineral usually found in association with copper deposits and is sometimes mined as a by-product of copper mining.
Although turquoise is found in desert regions worldwide, the finest and most valuable comes from Iran. Iranian turquoise is a pure robin’s egg blue that is free of green overtones, matrix or black veins. Perhaps the most famous turquoise today, however, comes from the southwestern United States. The occurrence in Arizona and New Mexico produces greener shades of the stone with matrix streaks of various colors.
While only ranking between 5.0 and 6.0 on the Mohs Scale of hardness, turquoise remains quite popular for jewelry. In Europe, turquoise rings are given as forget-me-not gifts, while in the United States, the stone is given as traditional 5th and 11th wedding anniversary gifts. It has even become a modern consideration for the December birthstone. When wearing turquoise over the years, the stone will absorb oil from a person’s skin, causing a slight change to the color of turquoise.