Two gemstones bear the name jade: nephrite and jadeite. Nephrite,
first known as yu, was treasured by the Chinese for centuries. Its
current name, and the word “jade,” both came from the Europeans via
the Spanish conquistadores who invaded South America. Like the
Chinese, the South Americans, especially the Aztecs, valued a
particular green stone above all else, even gold. Also like the
Chinese, they attributed healing powers to that stone. They often
used their green gem to relieve urinary ailments. Because of this,
the Spanish referred to it as the “stone of the loins” or sometimes,
“stone of the kidneys.” Nephrite is derived from the Latin word for
kidney, and jade is a corruption of the French word for loins.
All opaque green stones were known as nephrite or jade until the
development of crystallography. At that time, mineralogists began
classifying gemstones according to what minerals they were made from
and how those minerals formed solid substances. In that process,
they discovered that, despite the outward similarity, two completely
different minerals were named jade. They renamed the second stone
Although they both include silica, magnesium is the secondary
mineral in nephrite while jadeite contains aluminum. Pure jade of
either kind is white. Trace amounts of iron provide the green in
nephrite; and jadeite, like emeralds, gets its green from chromium.
Other chemical impurities yield other colors: nephrite may be beige,
yellow, blue or black, among others. White, blue-green, lavender,
orange and red are the primary jadeite colors. Jadeite colors are
usually more vivid than nephrite shades, especially the greens.
Because of this, jadeite is more highly valued than nephrite.
Mineralogists and jewelers take care to distinguish between nephrite
and jadeite. The general public continues to refer to either as
Although they first used nephrite, the Chinese now prefer jadeite
because of its color. It’s been named Imperial Jade.
Other names, such as New Jade, Korean Jade, Stygian Jade, Pagoda
stone, Mexican Jade and Indian Jade all refer to imitations. None of
these are authentic jade. Poor quality jade may also be dyed.
People, especially the Chinese and the Aztecs, utilized jade in many
ways through the centuries. It has functioned as money, played an
important role in ceremonies, been made into art and jewelry and
applied to the body or powdered and drunk as medicine. Those who
attribute powers to crystals believe that jade brings love, healing,
longevity, wisdom and prosperity.
Although some historians believe that the jade first used in China
was imported, jade is currently mined there. It’s also mined in
Myanmar (Burma), New Zealand, Siberia, South America and the United
****Sandra I. Smith, Writer ****