What is Jade?
Jade is a generic name or term for a sturdy green material that was so widespread in ancient Chinese culture that artisans created knives, blades, axes, and many other decorative items.
It was in the 1800s that it was confirmed that what people knew as “jade” was either jadeite or nephrite. Both are silicate materials, but they slightly differ chemically. Jadeite is a pyroxene mineral, while nephrite is an amphibole silicate.
The main difference between the two is the types of color that they occur in nature and their hardness. Nephrite is slightly softer than jadeite, but only by half a mark on the Mohs scale of hardness. Jadeite ranks at seven on the Mohs scale of hardness, while nephrite registers a maximum of 6.5.
This means that there is a risk that if you knock a piece of jadeite with a piece of nephrite, you might slightly scratch the nephrite. Other than this, nephrite is still a formidable gemstone that can easily trump most metals used for knives and daggers.
What’s the difference between jade vs. jadeite?
Since we have established that jade is synonymous with both jadeite and nephrite, let’s talk about the various types of jadeite in the market based on their quality.
What is Jadeite?
There are several jadeites classes based on their physical characteristics and the treatments used on them to make them more marketable.
Type A jadeite
This is the highest market class of jadeite and is preferred by buyers and collectors. Type A jadeite is a jade that has been treated with molten wax.
During the processing, the jadeite is cut and polished to its final form. The jade is then submerged in hot wax. The hot wax enters the minuscule gaps and pits on the jade’s surface to fill them.
The wax does not interfere with the color saturation of the jade at all. The jadeite is then polished and buffed until an extremely high level of shine is seen. Type A jadeite looks glorious on jewelry because it is the highest perfection ever on this gemstone class.
Type B jadeite
Type B jadeite is vastly different from Type A jadeite. These are jadeites that have been bleached with either sulfuric acid or ordinary household bleach. The bleaching removes most of the surface and internal impurities found on the stone.
Naturally, the bleaching also reduces the color saturation of the stone. Once the bleaching is complete, the jadeite is then cleaned through boiling.
The final step is submersion or injection of molten wax to deal with the superficial imperfections of the jadeite.
After submersion, the gemstones are cooled down, and the excess wax is removed before the final polishing. Type B jadeite can easily be spotted because of their lighter color, which is unavoidable because of the bleaching. In some instances, a type of transparent resin is used to fill gaps in a stone.
Such resin is capable of repairing cracks and gaps in the stone. Instead of dulling the stone, the resin improves the overall appearance of the Type B jadeite and makes it more marketable than before.
Due to the nature of Type B jadeite processing, gemologists warn that they are not going to last as long as Type A jadeite.
In a few years after purchasing, Type B jadeite may show signs of deterioration or aging. Bleaching with sodium hypochlorite or sulfuric acid reduces the toughness of the gemstones, rendering them more brittle than before the processing began.
Even if high-quality resin was used on the gems, it would be difficult for the substance to hold up forever. Resins also interact with the gem itself and the surroundings, and this means it can also begin to discolor after a few years. The discoloration of the resin or wax means discoloration of the gemstone.
One way to know that you are getting a Type B jadeite without full disclosure from the seller is to check the price. Type B jadeite is priced low, compared to Type A variants if the seller says that they have the same thing but a lower price, be careful, because he may not be entirely truthful with you.
Type C jadeite
Type C jadeite has undergone all of the processes associated with Type B jadeite, with one crucial difference. Type C jadeite is usually dyed and processed further to improve its color. The downside of the dyeing process is the color saturation will fade in time, especially if the Type C jadeite is regularly exposed to sun, wind, and rain. In short, if you wear a ring with a Type C jadeite set on it, that jade will eventually lose its color, and you are going to see the actual appearance of the jadeite when it was bleached with sulfuric acid.
On the other hand, Type C jadeite is recommended for people who don’t have a large budget for buying jade. Type C jadeite costs a fraction of Type B jadeite, the same way that Type B jadeite costs only a fraction of the cost of the best class of jade. As we go down the ladder of classification, you are going to get significant cost savings if you are willing to accept that the jade’s color will eventually fade.
Buy Type C jadeite if you are only interested in jewelry that is for temporary or short-term use. The highest quality gems can last for centuries. The processed ones tend to be more brittle, and their colors won’t last.
Take note also that some unscrupulous sellers might sell other minerals and call them jade. Here are some of the most common simulant or fake jades in the market:
- African jade is a feldspar with a blue-green color.
- Amazon jade is just amazonite, a variant of feldspar.
- American jade is a variant of vesuvianite called californite.
- Bowenite jade is another mineral altogether called serpentine, which almost looks like real nephrite.