Nephrite Gemstone Information
About Nephrite - History and Introduction
Jade is one of the oldest and most important gemstones, with a history dating over 7,000 years. It is especially prized throughout Chinese and Latin American cultures, often holding more value than gold. The term 'jade' was derived from 'Piedra de Ijada', a Spanish phrase meaning 'stone for the pain in the side' because Spanish explorers saw natives of Central America holding pieces of jade to their sides, believing that it could cure ills. The name 'nephrite' was derived from the Greek word for 'kidney', which refers to its supposed ability to cure kidney disease. Nephrite is one of two distinct mineral forms classified as jade (the other is jadeite) and up until 1863, nephrite was believed to be one and the same as jadeite.
Nephrite is a fibrous aggregate variety of tremolite-actinolite, a basic calcium magnesium iron silicate, whereas jadeite is a pyroxene mineral. Nephrite is more common than jadeite and although it is slightly softer than jadeite, it is considered tougher due to its denser structure. Traditional Chinese jade typically refers to nephrite since there are no actual jadeite deposits located in China. Today, green nephrite is considered to be the most valuable nephrite, but translucent, white nephrite was considered the most valuable up until the introduction of fine Burmese 'imperial' jadeite jade during the 18th century.
Identifying Nephrite Back to Top
Identifying the varieties of jade is often considered to be quite easy for most experts. Nephrite can frequently be distinguished from jadeite by its lower level of luster and translucency. Nephrite's luster is slightly more greasy to resinous, while jadeite's is more vitreous. Nephrite is softer than jadeite, and it may also be distinguished by its lower density (although it is more compact in structure, nephrite's specific gravity ranges from 2.90 to 3.03, while jadeite's ranges from 3.30 to 3.38). Other green gemstones can often be mistaken for nephrite jade, such as aventurine or serpentine, but serpentine is much softer and aventurine's texture and color are not as smooth. Emerald and chrysoprase are much harder than nephrite and their colors are different than those of jade.
Nephrite; Origin and Sources Back to Top
One of the most important sources for fine nephrite jade is New Zealand where it is commonly found in serpentine rocks, and as rounded pebbles along riverbanks and seashores. Other notable nephrite jade deposits can be found in Australia, Brazil, China (Sinkiang), Canada, Russia, Taiwan, Zimbabwe and the United States (Alaska and Wyoming). Nephrite was also formerly found in Poland.
Buying Nephrite and Determining Nephrite Value Back to Top
Nephrite Gemological Properties: Back to Top
Please refer to our Gemstone Glossary for details of gemology-related terms.
Nephrite: Related or Similar Gemstones Back to Top
Nephrite is one of the two distinct minerals recognized as jade (the other is jadeite). There are many other gemstones that are closely related and similar in appearance. There are also gemstones that contain nephrite or jadeite along with other minerals, such as jade-albite, maw-sit-sit and omphacite jade. A variety of 'jade' trade names used today are considered misleading since many of them are not actual forms of jade at all.
Some of the more popular names used today for different jades include:
'Imperial jade' - A translucent, deep emerald-green jadeite jade from Burma.
'Chrysomelanite' - A mottled dark green jade often displaying black speckles or lines.
'Russian jade' - A popular trade name for spinach-green colored nephrite from the Lake Baikal region of Russia.
'Wyoming jade' - A popular trade name for nephrite sourced from Wyoming, USA. It is also sometimes used in reference to a mix of green tremolite-albite.
'Lavender jade' - A translucent and rich lavender-colored jade.
Nephrite Mythology, Metaphysical and Crystal Healing Properties Back to Top
Since ancient times, nephrite jade has been used by many cultures for its powers. It was often used in burial ceremonies, since jade was believed to be an 'imperial gem'. Jade is believed to represent beauty, purity and grace. According to legend, after man was created, he wandered the earth weaponless and vulnerable to attacks from wild animals. The Storm God took pity on him and forged axes made of jade from a rainbow. The Storm God tossed these jade weapons to Earth for man to find and use as weapons of protection. In the Maori language, nephrite jade is known as 'pounamu'; it is highly prized throughout the Maori culture and is protected under the Treaty of Waitangi. Maori weapons were made of nephrite and often handed down as heirlooms as the jade weapons were believed to hold very special power or 'mana'.
Nephrite today is believed to be a stone of dreams. It is thought that it can bless whatever it touches. Depending on the actual color of the gem, it can possess a variety of powers. Physically, nephrite is said to be a restorative stone. It is also very useful for cleansing the body, especially the kidneys, liver and spleen. Nephrite is thought to be especially helpful for joint and bone related pain, and is also often used to help fight viral and bacterial infections.
Nephrite Gemstone and Jewelry Design Ideas Back to Top
Nephrite jade is an excellent jewelry gemstone. It is most often polished into cabochons or beads and used for pendants, bracelets, necklaces, rings, and earrings. It is considered to be very tough because of its lack of cleavage and dense composition, although it can be scratched rather easily. Many ornamental figures and carvings are made of nephrite.
Nephrite is especially popular throughout Asia for use in talismans, amulets and especially cameos. Unlike other gemstones, it is not uncommon to find entire pieces of jewelry, such as rings and bracelets, that are carved entirely from a single mass of nephrite. Nephrite jade jewellery is popular in New Zealand's Maori designs, especially among tourists.
Note: Buy colored gemstones by size and not by carat weight. Colored stones vary in size-to-weight ratio. Some stones are larger and others are smaller than diamonds by weight in comparison.
Famous Nephrite Gemstones Back to Top
Creamy white Chinese nephrite is referred to as 'mutton fat jade', and most of it is found near the city of Hotan in China. One piece of 'mutton fat', weighing nearly 18,000 pounds was carved into an image of an ancient Chinese emperor; it now resides somewhere in what was the Forbidden City. There is also a large mass of Hotan 'mutton fat' displayed in the lobby of the Hotan Cultural Museum.
Nephrite Gemstone Jewelry Care and Cleaning Back to Top
Although nephrite jade is considered to be quite tough, it can be easily scratched as it is rather soft compared to most other jewelry gemstones. To clean your nephrite, use plain soapy water and a soft cloth. Be sure to rinse well to remove soapy residue. When cleaning, do not use any harsh chemicals or cleaners, since nephrite is porous and can absorb colors quite easily. As with most gemstones, avoid the use of ultrasonic cleaners and steamers, and do not expose your nephrite gems to extreme temperature fluctuations or prolonged heat and strong light.
Always remove jewelry before exercising, playing sports, or engaging in harsh household chores such as dishwashing. Store nephrite away from other gemstones to avoid scratches and fractures. It is best to always wrap your gemstones in soft cloth or place them inside a fabric-lined jewelry box.
- First Published: February-28-2014
- Last Updated: January-27-2015
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