The Story Behind the Stone: The intrigue & allure of jade

Jarrett bangleA connoisseur’s stone, jade has many variations. It takes a master to understand the subtle nuances that drive price and consequently its value. Only when auctions, often held in Hong Kong, show results do we begin to focus once more on their collectability.

The much buzzed about Christies Hong Kong Magnificent Jewels auction last May 31 produced some dazzling results. One lot, called an Impressive Jadeite Bangle brought in over $2M. It was an 8.8mm thick cylindrical jadeite bangle of bright apple green to whitish pastel green - some areas being close to transparent.

The same auction sold a simple diamond accented ring featuring a rectangular curved plaque of a jadeite (22.8mm x 11.8mm) for over a half million dollars US.

What stirs such feverish bidding to bring these colossal auction results for green stone ornaments? Asia’s devotees of the material are legion. And their love affair with jade goes back millennia. The material in general has an impressive provenance. Skillfully carved jadeite ax heads mined in northern Italy from the Neolithic period (beginning about 10,200 BC) were found scattered across the British Isles. Owing to the tremendous difficulty in working with jade, it’s believed these jade ax heads were ornamental or even used as a form of currency.

Turkey produces some unusual lavender color jade. The ancient Mayans treasured and intense deep toned green, almost blue jade referred to as Olmec Blue Jade. The Mesoamericans prized this unique variation of the hard stone, and carved wondrous adornments for the breastplates of their high priests in this material.

Jarrett roughIn Chinese culture, the value of jade extends far beyond its ornamental use. They place deep spiritual significance to this stone. And today, in tandem with the rise of China’s economy comes a spike in jade’s value. Chinese citizens who have always admired jade are actually able to buy it now. So the supply lags far behind the demand at this point.

Burma (now Myanmar) fine quality green jade is the gold standard of desirability for this gemstone. Jade from any source however is critiqued first by its color, then transparency and texture. Whether the item has even coloration or mottling, these elements must be pleasing to the eye. The best jade will take a fine polish and reflect light well. In the case of translucent to the ultra rare semi-transparent jade, clarity reigns - any surface reaching fractures impacts value.

Even lovers of jadeite who have heard of lavender jade or its bluish-green version may be surprised to learn of the tremendous variety of colors that appear in this stone. Black, white and grey are found in the jade world. So are yellow, red, orange and brown. All of these can be crafted into exciting jewelry or decorative items.

But the one kind dubbed Imperial Jade (in a nod to the legendary Chinese Royal Court) is still considered the top of the heap. Nearly transparent and vibrant green, this finest quality jadeite still thrills the cognoscenti. These are the items one is not surprised to discover selling in the millions of dollars.

While ornate decorative items have been routinely carved from jade for eons, today the most popular use is still found in its simplest form - a plain saddle ring carved from a single jade stone, or smooth round green bangles like our $2M stone bracelet sold at Christies.

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Award winning trade journalist and gemologist Diana Jarrett is a Registered Master Valuer Appraiser and a member of the Association of Independent Jewellery Valuers (AIJV). She’s a popular speaker at conferences and trade shows. Jarrett writes for trade and consumer publications, online outlets, her blog: Color-n-Ice, and Contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., visit her website at, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter (Loupey).