Jadeite Jade Quality Factors
The price for fine-quality jadeite has risen dramatically along with China’s economic rise. The demand from those who can newly afford it has significantly outpaced the supply of this rare material.
The Chinese have revered jadeite’s fine green colour since its discovery in Burma. Top-quality jadeite is rare. Vivid, sleek and translucent, magnificent jadeite commands some of the highest prices among gems in today’s international market.
Jadeite’s three most important qualities, in order of their impact on its market value, are colour, transparency and texture.
When jadeite buyers evaluate fashioned jadeite, they consider many factors. First, they judge its colour under both fluorescent and incandescent light sources. They check its level of transparency. They look for even colouration or a pleasing mottling of colours. They also look for fine polish and undistorted surface reflections. Clarity is important, too, because any fractures can strongly affect value.
Colour is jadeite’s most important value factor. Because consumers traditionally associate jadeite with the colour green, it surprises some people to learn that it comes in other colours as well—lavender, red, orange, yellow, brown, white, black and grey. All of these colours can be attractive. But jadeite’s most desirable colour is, in fact, a very specific shade of green.
The finest-quality jadeite—almost transparent with a vibrant emerald-green colour—is known as “Imperial jade”. The royal court of China once had a standing order for all available material of this kind, and it’s one of the world’s most expensive gems.
The green that can command millions of dollars in the marketplace is pure and penetrating, a vivid hue with no hint of grey, that looks intense even from a distance. It ranges from pure green to a slightly bluish green or a slightly yellowish green.
Other highly valued jade varieties include “kingfisher jade”, with a green colour that’s only slightly less vivid than Imperial; “apple jade”, which is an intense yellowish green; and “moss-in-snow jade”, which is translucent white with bright green veining, patches or spots. The most outstanding examples of these are almost always bought and sold in the Asian market.
Lavender is the next most valuable colour. Intense colours command a substantial premium over lighter and weaker colours. Black jade is also popular, along with orange to reddish jade, especially when these colours are not brownish.
Jadeite’s transparency ranges from completely opaque to semi-transparent. The best jadeite is semi-transparent, meaning text read through it will be slightly blurred. Because light penetrates below the surface, semi-transparent jadeite has an alluring brilliance. It almost appears to glow, increasing the charm of a lush green or rich lavender hue. The least desirable jadeites are completely opaque or have opaque or cloudy patches that break up their transparency.
To judge transparency, some buyers place a thin jadeite slice on a printed page and try to read the print through the gem. If the transparency is excellent, the viewer can see the print easily, even if the jadeite is dark green. Good transparency can sometimes compensate for lack of uniform colour or low colour saturation.
Jadeite has a smooth, even texture that makes people want to touch and hold it. Jadeite’s texture can be fine, medium or coarse, depending on variations in crystal size and hardness. These texture categories are sometimes called, respectively, old mine, relatively old mine and new mine.
The same crystal structure that contributes to jadeite’s texture also contributes to its exceptional toughness. Jadeite’s interlocking crystals, also called grains, produce a tightly inter-grown, compact mass that bonds together and is break resistant. In the early days of its history, when it was used to fashion tools and weapons, jadeite’s ability to withstand breakage was one of its major advantages.
China is the world’s main polishing centre for jadeite. Some jadeite from Myanmar is fashioned near its source, in cutting workshops near the open jade markets of Hpakan, Lonkin, Mogaung and Mandalay. Many cutters there still polish jadeite the ancient way, using a hollow bamboo lathe treated with sand and water.
Manufacturers fashion jadeite into a handful of distinctive, traditional jewellery forms. Some are hololiths, carved entirely from a single piece of rough. Hololiths include bangles, rings and pendants.
The finest-quality jadeite is usually cut into cabochons for use in rings and other jewellery. When buyers judge cabochons, they consider symmetry, proportion and thickness. Calibration is not as important for top-quality material as it is for more commercial qualities. The finest jadeite cabochons are rarely cut to calibrated sizes because the cutter’s goal is to save rough weight.
Fine-quality jadeite might also be cut into round beads, which are carefully selected for stringing. Colour and texture are the most important factors for matching jadeite beads. Manufacturers also match transparency, size and symmetry of cut. Because matching is difficult, especially for colour, longer strands or larger beads can sell for extremely high prices.
The jade bangle, first carved in China from nephrite, is a style thought to date back at least four thousand years. A smooth circle of bright jadeite encircling the wrist is thought, even today, to bring peace and protection to its wearer. Jadeite bangles can be highly important pieces of jewellery.
Some bangles are hololiths. When a cutter fashions a bangle from a single piece of rough, a great deal of weight loss results. For this reason, hololith bangles cost more than bangles that consist of several pieces joined together by precious-metal hinges.
The Chinese eternity symbol, or bi, bears great spiritual significance for many jadeite connoisseurs. The shape is simple: a convex or plump disc with a round hole in its centre. Ideally, the jadeite should be more than twice as wide as the hole.
Jadeite rings are often simple all-jadeite bands. The finest bands show uniform colour all the way around. A variation on this is the saddle ring, a solid band with a carved rectangular-shaped top.
Size and weight
Jadeite size is commonly expressed in millimetres. The value of cabochons, beads and bangle bracelets rises with an increase in size, all other quality factors being equal. With top-quality imperial jadeite, slight differences in size can make large differences in value. With nephrite, larger sizes do not increase the value dramatically in most cases.