Wondering the difference between jadeite stones and nephrite stones?
You're in the right place.
In this Learning Guide, I'll answer the following questions about these two stones:
- Is Chinese Jade Nephrite?
- Are All Shades of Jade the Same?
- What are the Properties of Jade?
Jadeite vs Nephrite: Origin
Jadeite is one of the two main varieties of jade. Most people think all jade is the same, but that's incorrect. Jade stones are composed of either jadeite jade or nephrite jade. There's a lot of similarities between the two jade stones. But there's a difference. A few of them, actually.
Jadeite jade is the rarer of the two gemstones. It is more valuable and less abundant than nephrite. As a whole, both nephrite and jadeite have been used since prehistoric times.
Gemstones and minerals have been used in ancient cultures both in jewelry and for metaphysical purposes.
When using crystals, both varieties have the same meanings. It was believed to help those under the pain of kidney stones and other related ailments. The Romans nicknamed it lapis nephriticus, which quite plainly means "kidney stones". Literally, it's "stone of the kidneys".
The traditional color of jade is green, which is often symbolized with money,wealth, and good fortune. While not the most popular stone in the West and as such not as common in western diamond retailers, jade is valued and prized in Asian cultures. China, mostly.
But that's where the similarities between jadeite and nephrite jade end.
Though jadeite and nephrite are both jade, they grow differently and have a different chemical composition. It took thousands of years for people to realize there were two types of jade. It wasn't until about 1863.
Jadeite jade is from the pyroxene minerals group. It rarely occurs in crystal form and is found mainly among serpentine extracted from olivine rocks. It also may occur in alluvial boulders.
Different localities of jadeite can be found in various parts of the world. The most valuable jadeite comes from Myanmar (formerly Burma). Other varieties can be found in Guatemala, Russia, Mexico, Japan, New Zealand and others.
Nephrite jade doesn't occur in as many colors as jadeite, nor is it as rare. It's much easier to find high quality nephrite than jadeite. Nephrite is also popular in China, though most collectors of jade seek Imperial Jade, which is jadeite. Nearly all jade in Chinese markets are nephrite jade.
Though both jade, nephrite gems have a significant difference in chemical compositions. It is a calcium magnesium iron silicate. Jadeite is a sodium aluminum silicate.
Nephrite has also been used since prehistoric times, but that's also because people didn't know nephrite and jadeite were two different kinds of jade. It wasn't until a French mineralogist named Alexis Damour brought the gemstone difference to attention.
Nephrite also grows in large forms. making it a choice material for large jade items, carvings, and ceremonial objects.. Nephrite has also been used in battle armor due to its toughness. It occurs with metamorphic rocks rich in magnesium and iron. Most often it's found in rolled boulders.
The biggest occurrences of Nephrite jade are Canada, China, Russia, US, New Zealand, Taiwan and others.
Jadeite vs Nephrite: Appearance
The most sought after color variety of jadeite is Imperial green, or imperial jade from short. Jadeite won't be found as faceted or cut gemstones. High quality jadeite becomes carvings, art pieces, and ornaments for decor.
The deep green hues of jadeite from Myanmar aren't the only green shades . Other green colors may be called glassy, apple green, spinach, or moss in snow. Olmec Blue shade of jadeite is also rare, but not as sought out. Olmec blue jade is the second most valuable.
Red jadeite is often confused with the pigeon blood red rubies from Burma due to their similar hues. Burmese rubies are far more valuable, however.
Jadeite also occurs as white, colorless, brown, yellow, yellow brown, lavender, black, and gray. The presence of aluminum in a jadeite stone makes it occur in a range of color.
Jadeite can be translucent to opaque. White jade with clear translucency can be cut into stunning translucent white pieces with an eerie glow.
Synthetics & Imitations
Jadeite has been synthesized in a lab, but you won't find it commercially. You're more likely to find stones and other materials imitating jadeite. Common jadeite imitations include other green stones like serpentine, malachite, dyed chalcedony, dyed quartz, amazonite, and even glass.
Nephrite occurs in different colors as well, but not as many as jadeite jade. The green hues of nephrite aren't bright like imperial jade. Green nephrite jade is yellow, yellow-green, olive green, brown, and a creamy white to beige, known as mutton fat jade.
Synthetics & Imitation
Both nephrite and jadeite have been synthesized, but aren't available commercially. Like jadeite, nephrite jade can be imitated by other gems. Some of them the same as jadeite. Common nephrite imitations are chrysoprase, serpentine, pectolite, and amazonite.
Mixed Jade & Trade Names
Unlike most other gemstones, both varieties of jades can be found within other rocks. This can cause confusion among uneducated jade buyers. For example, Turkish purple jade contains about 40-60% real jade, but not lilac jade. Technically it's a jade stone, but not all of it is.
Here are some other combos of jade gemstones, as well as trade names you should be cautious of that don't have any jade to begin with.
- Xiuang Jade, New Jade, Korean Jade- All serpentine jade, with contains 40%-60% nephrite.
- Mountain Jade- Is actually high grade dolomite marble that has been dyed or color-enhanced.
- Transvaal Jade- Is actually grossular garnet.
- Australian Jade- The actual gemstone is chrysoprase.
- Indian Jade- The stone is green aventurine.
- Malaysia Jade- The stone is dyed chalcedony or quartz usually.
Jadeite vs Nephrite: Price
The price of jade items heavily depends on the kind of jade and the jade piece itself. Jadeite and nephrite jade have different price ranges too. But there's another important factor that determines the price of all jade, and that's treatments.
Gemstone treatments are common for colored stones. Some treatments are permanent and can't be altered, while it's the opposite with others.
The most common gemstone treatment for jadeite is dyes. Sellers will take lighter green, white, and other less interesting colors and dye them to a vivid green color. Dyed jade will bring down the price.
Nephrite jade has a high density that makes it unable to be dyed. That being said, it can still go other treatments like polymer impregnation.
Type A Jade
If a piece of jade is classified as Type A jade, it means it hasn't had chemical treatment and is natural jadeite. It's possible it may have had a wax coating to enhance color, but it doesn't depreciate value.
Type B Jade
If it's classified as Type B Jade, it means the jade stone has been chemically bleached or had polymer impregnation.
Type C Jade
Type C Jade is also real jade, but it has been dyed.
Type B+C Jade
This means it is real jade has been both dyed and subjected to bleaching or other treatments.
All jade sellers should reveal whether gemstone has been treated. In gem markets, this may not be the case. If buying a natural untreated jadeite for a high price, make sure it comes with jade certification.
Type A jadeite jade can go for around $100 per carat when cut en cabochon. Carvings and figurines will go for more. Nephrite is considerably less expensive and can go as low as $7 per carat.
Read also: Best Place to Buy Colored Gemstones
Jadeite vs Nephrite: Value
Both gems make excellent and lasting jewelry. Neither of them have gemstone cleavage, which is one of the factors in a gemstone's overall durability to chips and breaks. The main difference between durability of the two are their hardness rating.
Jadeite rates a 6.5-7 on the mineral hardness scale. Nephrite can be slightly softer, at 6-7. If you can't tell if a piece of jade jewelry is one or the other, scratch test can determine it for you. If the gem scratches, it is nephrite.
Despite the slightly softer stone, both of these stones will make lasting jewelry gifts for yourself or someone else.
I don't blame you for getting confused between jadeite and nephrite. After all, we went from prehistoric times all the way to the 1800s without knowing.
Both green gemstones make excellent stones for jewelry, but are mostly cut and carved into ornaments, figurines, and images within stone. They have a good hardness and are extremely tough. Jadeite has slightly better scratch resistance than a nephrite gemstone.
Jadeite is known for its variety of colors, mainly the bright green Imperial color or lavender jadeite. Nephrite isn't as expansive, but often used for larger jade carvings.
The price of both jadeite and nephrite depend on the color and complexity of each gem. Translucent jadeite will command the higher prices while nephrite jade is more affordable.
Both jadeite and nephrite jewelry make great gifts for someone looking for unique pieces.
Jade's not the usual alternative gemstone for engagement rings, but it's definitely worth adding to your collection.