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Article: Jadeite or Nephrite

Jadeite or Nephrite

Jadeite or Nephrite

This issue has caused a lot of confusion since the popularisation of jade rollers and jade Gua Sha. This confusion was further enhanced by manufacturers of yoni eggs who claimed that only jadeite is real jade and all others were false jade. In this blog we will reveal in detail the truth and the historical reason for this ongoing confusion.

The confusion over what actually defines the word jade is not new it has existed for centuries. In fact even amongst mineralogists it was not until 1863 that Alexis Damour determined that the word jade actually refers to both Jadeite and nephrite (1).

The main reason for the confusion was that the 2 different crystals were generally not found in the same places. In China for example the home of jade rollers and the inventor of the term gua sha jadeite was not introduced until after 1800 from Myanmar. Prior to this all jade, which has huge cultural and historical significance in China, was nephrite jade from one of the 4 key jade mining areas of China. The jade from each of these areas had different names for example Lantian jade from the Liantian area of Xian provience, Hetian jade from the Hetian area of Xinjiang provience, Dushan jade from the Dushan area of Henan provience and Xiuyan jade from the Xiuyan area of Liaoning province.

When jadeite was introduced from Myanmar the Chinese simply thought of it as a 5th form of jade and named it Kingfisher (feathers) jade. In Chinese there is a character with the pinyin translation of yu which is used to refer to the two types of crystal we call jade in English. In some later writings in Chinese nephrite had come to be known as soft jade while jadeite was referred to as hard jade.

The naming was hardly more helpful in Europe. The word was first recorded in Spanish in 1565 as piedra de ijada or loin stone from its reputation for curing illnesses of the loins and kidneys (2). The word then passed through French in the form of l’ejade before arriving in English as jade. At this stage as you can see there was no clear geological definition of the word jade. The word nephrite actually comes from lapis nephriticus which is a latin translation of the original Spanish piedra de ijada (3). This understanding of the name makes the very clear statement that nephrite was always understood to be synonymous with the word jade.

The Chinese would certainly agree. Dushan Jade (a form of nephrite jade) was being mined as early as 6,000 BC. Jade rollers and Gua Sha have always been made from nephrite jade. This is largely for practical reasons. The jadeite was simply not available until much more recently. Additionally jadeite is much harder than nephrite so is more difficult to carve and more prone to shattering. It is also much more expensive so is generally reserved for fine pieces of jewellery.

The debate of jadeite compared to nephrite will continue to be exploited by different merchants to labels competitors products false jade but as you can see both are genuine forms of jade and have been since the word was first invented. The debate is stronger amongst manufacturers of yoni eggs. I am yet to see anyone claim their jade roller was made from jadeite. If you did see this a simple test would be it is was for sale for less than $300 or CA$445 or so then the claim is simply not true.

As a parting note I wanted to leave you with a story a friend of mine who works in the jade industry in China told me recently. In some parts of China it has become common to gamble on your ability to identify a piece of jadeite from a piece of nephrite. People have actually lost fortunes playing this game. I like this story because it shows that even in the cradle of nephrite jade where for millennium jade has occupied the same cultural significance as gold or diamonds in the west people are still being bamboozled by the jadeite vs nephrite debate.

As a final challenge guess which stone is featured in the image attached to this blog? Leave your answers in the comments and we will let you know.

1.  "Jade, greenstone, or pounamu?". Retrieved 11 November 2018
2. Online Etymology Dictionary". Retrieved 2011-03-07.
3. Easby, Elizabeth Kennedy. Pre-Columbian Jade from Costa Rica. (1968). André Emmerich Inc., New York

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