Uncovering the Mysteries of Jade
It has been said that, while gold has value, jade is invaluable. Discover with us the rich history of the gemstone in China and around the world.
China's legendary love of jade goes back thousands of years, weaving the stone into the very thread of their culture with a rich legend, lore and symbolism. The word “jade” or “yu” in Mandarin translates to “beautiful stone” and, thousands of years ago, it may have been applied to any number of ornamental materials that could be carved, most specifically nephrite.
According to legend, jadeite was discovered sometime in the 13th century when a Yunnan trader was traveling through what is now northern Burma and picked up a boulder to help balance the load on his mule. When the boulder broke open, a vivid emerald green material was revealed, captivating the trader and, in turn, the entire Chinese people. Upon the discovery of this mysterious green stone, the Yunnan government sent out fruitless expeditions in the 13th and 14th century in attempt to find the source of this spectacular gem.
They would have to wait 500 years until Emperor Qianlong extended China’s jurisdiction into northern Burma in 1784 and the source of the green stone was at last discovered in the mountains. After that, the fine green jadeite easily found its way to Beijing and the nation’s top jade carvers through the Jade Road. Mined from the mountains, jadeite is found in boulders with a crust that frequently obscures the precious stone within. How do the miners distinguish between a boulder that contains jadeite and your regular, everyday boulder?
To see how this is done, look to the current jade market in Burma, where current practices are deeply rooted in the traditions of the trade. A practice rooted in patience, miners dig, dismantle and pick through mountains of stone, guided by gut and lore to intuit the precious jade entombed within a rocky crust; it is, accordingly, a practice greatly associated with luck, for much of jade is bought and sold as a boulder, such that neither the seller nor the buyer know for certain what’s inside.
A jade boulder is first classified by where it was found. River jade, which is discovered in the deposits along the Uru River, has a thinner crust and a more rounded shape due to its weathering by the river. This type of jade is more likely have part of the crust eroded away to a “show point” where a portion of the color within can be seen. Mountain jade boulders have a thicker skin that obscures what’s inside. It’s possible for a natural “show point” to exist in a mountain jade boulder, but if it isn’t the owner may polish an “eye” into the stone, in hopes of getting a better glimpse at the color inside. The placement of this “eye” is to be measured and considered carefully, as the color inside may not be consistent throughout, so the aim would be to let the best part show through. A less invasive technique used to glean what’s inside is to wet the surface of the boulder in hopes that the color will be hinted, and then use a penlight and metal plate in order to help make it more visible. The clearest way to see what’s inside is, of course, to cut into the boulder, however you then run risk of cutting into the best part.
It’s easy to see how buying and selling jade is a bit of gamble.
As with all trades, there are jade traders that have a very special knack, in this case called a “golden hand” for judging jade boulders; simply by studying the exterior of the boulder, they can predict the color inside. And the color of jade is undoubtedly a huge part of the story – after all, it was the discovery of the mysterious extraordinarily brilliant green piece of jadeite that spurred expedition after expedition to find it’s source.
Although Burmese jadeite was not truly discovered until the 18th century, the gemstone jade or “yu” has been precious in China for over 9,000 years. Considered a link between the physical and spiritual worlds as well as the only material to truly encapsulate both the “yin” and “yang” qualities of heaven and earth, it was used to communicate with spirits and was thought to protect both the body and the spirit of the living as well as the deceased.
Nowadays, jade is considered closely related to the human body, as the “qi” energy of the stone and the “qi” energy of the body interact. Over time it is thought that jade essentially becomes a part of the wearer, acting as protector of the wearer’s person. If you were to gift someone a piece of jade off your body, you are considered to be giving them a part of yourself.
Green jade can be used to calm the nervous system and to heal the body and mind. It resonates with calm, balance and love and can be used to aid in expressing love and finding the true desire of one’s heart. Red jade is considered an active stone that can help soothe anxious situations and dispel negative energy. It can be used to handle expressions of anger, agitation and upset, as the red jade has energy for protection and safety. Orange jade promotes joy, inner peace and happiness. It can be used to help the digestive organs as well as provide security and boost the wearer’s energy. Yellow jade augments happiness, prosperity, spiritual growth and satisfaction in life. White jade holds the pure energy of the universe, and will help to develop wisdom from deep within as well as calm the spirit. Helps to direct one’s energy to its most advantageous outlet.
It would be easy to assume that jade is a stone revered by the Chinese alone; in fact, its history spans the globe, carved into the world’s ancient cultures and still ticking along in our modern times. New Zealand’s Māori people value highly their nephrite jade as the God stone. They revere it as a talisman and consider it to possess the spiritual power to evoke strength and prosperity, to protect, to express love and kinship, and to depict growth and harmony when worn.
The history of jade is as fascinating as the legions of people that have loved and incorporated it into the rich fibers of their culture. Jade speaks to us, not just for it’s spectacular beauty, but for the stories, legends and lore behind the mysterious greens.
If you'd like to read more about jade, you're welcome to click on the links sprinkled in the text, as well as on the pictures which will take you to their source (if not our own). Otherwise, here are a few links that you may find interesting: