Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Are the Jade Sources Really in Danger of Depletion?

Guatemala Blue Jadeite
Photo Credit: Blue Jades

Rumor has it that the geological sources for top-quality jade are at risk of being depleted. This rumor, maintained by Chinese jade traders, might be driving the price of jade higher and higher each year.

In some areas of China, such as Hotan (Khotan), government agencies have cracked down on commercial pillage of the beautiful white nephrite jade along the White Jade River (Yurungkash) area. They are concerned that this age-old source of mutton-fat jade might be completely depleted if they don't protect it.

It is also true that known sources for high-quality nephrite and jadeite jade in the world are limited. However, even a cursory bit of research could make a person wonder if this rumor of jade's growing scarcity is a bit exaggerated.

In Burma (Myanmar), gemstone-quality jadeite jade continues to be exported at rates in excess of 46,000 tons. And as recently as 2010, jade expert Wang Chunyun reported that untouched tracts of white jade run through the Kunlun Mountains. Furthermore, as far away as Australia, Korea, and Poland, there are reports of similarly untapped jade lodes.

Mr. Wang, though unwilling to attempt to dispel the rumor in the marketplace (on the grounds that "it would be too much of a psychological blow"), told New York Times reporter, Andrew Jacobs that "the rarity of jade is a myth."

In fact, in 2011 a team of scientists and scholars located a staggering cache of blue-green jadeite jade north of the Motaqua fault in Guatemala that was reported to have produced house- and bus-sized boulders of jadeite. This same team later found jade veins as wide as 2 feet running along the hillsides in a 50-yard stretch.

Several miles south of the fault line, the team found more "huge boulders of blue." Dr. Virginia Sisson, of Rice University, told a reporter that this jade rivaled the quality of any that they had found in Burma, the leading source of top-quality commercial jadeite jade in the world.

While it is true that the jadeite north of the fault line is not grade A (commercial-quality), it sounds like the stones found south of the fault may prove to be commercially viable, once the long-range scientific research has been completed in the area. This is what we know about jadeite jade.

Fraser River Valley, British Columbia, Canada
Photo Credit: Scented Leaf Blog

Furthermore, another form of jewelry-grade jade is found in abundance throughout the world. Nephrite jade is currently available in regions of China (Turkestan), Australia, the United States, Canada (British Columbia), and more.

The nephrite found in British Columbia is most intriguing, and not just because it's close to home. What makes it pertinent to a discussion of jade's rarity is that the primary geological source remains concealed from discovery.

Though much of the nephrite specimens gathered from B.C.'s Fraser River valley are considered low quality, there is a possibility that higher-quality tracts might lie deep beneath the earth's surface or along the hillsides rising up from the river bed. Deposits of this same type of green nephrite jade can be found as far south as the Cascade Mountain regions of Washington State, though this particular jade is usually called "Canada jade" or "British Columbia jade."

Another source of nephrite jade was found in Alaska in 1885. Many boulders have been collected along the Shungnak River, nestled between Kobuk Valley National Park and Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. Though this region was primarily mined for gold through the 1950s, fine-quality nephrite boulders have been found as well. This remote and fairly untouched source of nephrite is believed to cover a large area at its source. Unfortunately, the nephrite in this valley is rough, scaly, and opaque, mostly unfit for cutting.

Further nephrite-rich deposits were found in Australia in the 1960s and '70s. Considered one of the largest nephrite-producing regions in the world, the Cowell Jade Province boasts over a hundred known jade caches. This area produces three varieties of high-quality nephrite jade: green, black, and premium black. On occasion, slices of rare varieties of nephrite with dendritic inclusions are discovered. These beautiful inclusions appear as wavy banding along the jade boulder rinds.

As a final example of a nearly untapped source of nephrite jade, the Kunlun Mountain region in Chinese Turkestan is reported to harbor a layer of between 20 and 40 feet of nephrite on the mountain's north slopes. While most of the jade discovered in this region has run off into the Karakash, Yurangkash, and Keriya Rivers, it is reported that the source band of nephrite stretches for miles along the mountainside.

With all of these uncultivated and newly discovered sources of jade around the world, it is clear that although it may be true that high-quality jade may indeed tap out, it would be hard to defend a position that jade is actually growing scarce today.


1. Broad, William J. "In Guatemala, a Mother Lode of Jade." GSA Foundation. Accessed September 12, 2012.
2. Hansen, Kathryn. "Unlocking Jade's Secrets." Geotimes, August 2006.
3. Jacobs, Andrew. "Jade From China's West Surpasses Gold in Value." The New York Times. Published online September 20, 2010.
4. Magnier, Mark. "Jade Trade Chips Away at a Bit of China's Soul." Los Angeles Times. Published online September 17, 2006.

*Clip art courtesy of The Graphics Fairy

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