|Carved Chinese Nephrite Basin|
Photo Credit: Cultural China--Arts
by Angela Magnotti Andrews
For over 7,000 years jade has remained firmly seated on the throne in China as the most favored substance. At one time, it was thought to be the stone of the gods, and it has oft been used throughout the centuries to distinguish the upper crust of China's elite. The ethereal green stone (the most favored color of jade) has oft been more highly valued than even gold or diamonds, especially in Asian cultures.
Similarly, for over 3,000 years jade ranked as the most precious gemstone among the ancient people groups in Mesoamerica (Central America and Mexico), starting with the Olmecs, then the Mayans, and later the Aztecs. Jade remained the stone of choice in the Americas until the Spanish brought gold fever to the Gulf Coast in the 1500s.
As different as the Chinese are from the Mesoamerican people groups, so is the distinction between Olmec jade and Chinese jade. Though the Olmec people discovered their bluish-green jade as early as 1200 BC, it wouldn't be until the late 1700s AD that the Chinese would get their hands on this more illustrious jade, sourced not from the Americas, but instead from Burma (now Myanmar).
|Olmec Jade Carving, circa 10th-6th cent. BC|
Photo Copyright 2000-2012, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo Credit: The Photograph Studio
In addition to its use as a healing stone, both types of jade were carved into tools, weapons, personal adornments, ornaments, and ritual objects. Today, jadeite reigns as the king of jade, being the most commercially traded of the two types. Though jewelry is made from both nephrite and jadeite, emerald green jadeite, also called "Imperial Jade," is the most prized for making pendants, rings, and earrings.
Read more about Jadeite Jade.
Read more about jadeite's fraternal twin, Nephrite Jade.
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*Clip art courtesy of The Graphics Fairy