The material jade is actually made up of two different kinds of stone, the most widespread mineral being nephrite, a variety of the mineral actinolite and a silicate of calcium and magnesium. It is composed of fibrous intertwined crystals. The other, more precious mineral which is used more sparingly, is pyroxene jadeite, a material composed of interlocking and very compact crystals. Chemically, it is a mix of sodium and aluminium silicate NaAl[Si2O6]. Jade’s strength, comparable even to steel, was one reason for its popularity among early civilisations in Europe, Far-East and Meso-America.

Besides its toughness, jade’s smoothness and range of colours made it very attractive to early artisans and artists. Basic jade is either white or colorless opaque, but by adding minerals, beautiful colours can be produced: chromium makes it emerald green (Imperial Jade), iron makes it brown and green, manganese creates violet colours. Calcium gives it many different colors like white, apple green, red, brown and even blue. It can be cut and shaped with sandstone, slate and quartz sand on lathes with tools of bronze or iron. Finally, the pure sound of jade stones made it a very important idiophone musical instrument.

Chinese Jade comes from the far west province of China in what is today Xinjiang (Khotan, Yarkand). An even better quality jadeit from Burma was introduced in the 18th century. Neolithic artisans used to shape the stones into axes, knives and representations of animals. Also typical Chinese jade shapes are emblems like a ring called huan, a half-ring pendant named huang, axes called yue, fu or chan and a disk called bi. The sacrificial and religious character of jade – it was used to symbolise man’s relationship with heaven – is best seen in pieces called han and cong. Han, which means ‘containing’ were shaped to represent cicadas and were place in the mouth of the dead. Cong is a hollow cylinder that symbolized heaven (the round inner hole) and earth (the quadrangular outer shape). The hardness, durability and beauty of the jade stones were qualities that noble men sought to imitate.

Fake jade on the market are produced from serpentine which is not as hard as real jade. Copies of expensive and beautiful emerald green jade are faked by dyeing colorless pieces or even by producing pieces from heavy lead glass. The Chinese character for jade yu is the picture of three pieces of jade bound together. Many stones or minerals have a character with jade as determining component, like agate (manao), pearl (zhenzhu), coral (shanhu) or glass (boli).

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