What’s in a Name? The Splendor of Imperial Jadeite Jewelry

"Gold is estimable; but Jade is priceless." -Chinese proverb

Shrouded behind a veil of verdant mystery for centuries, the brilliance of jadeite inspired fascinating legends of desire. One such tale tells of a Chinese emperor who offered fifteen cities for a jadeite carving so small that it fit in the palm of his hand.

Today, Imperial jadeite is ranked as one of the rarest minerals on earth. Jewelry crafted of this precious stone can fetch amazing dollar amounts. A Christie's auction in Hong Kong of a jadeite necklace comprising 27 beads of approximately 15mm in size brought in $9.3 million dollars in November of 1997.

But what exactly makes jadeite so special? Why is it called jadeite and not just jade? Many assume that they are the same thing, but not necessarily. Jade refers to both nephrite and jadeite. For over 2,000 years, the stone known exclusively as "jade" in China was actually nephrite. The terms became intertwined as Europeans noticed certain similarities between the two, and began referring to both as jade. Nephrite jade has a more milky appearance and can be scratched by a knife blade. Jadeite possesses a rich coloration, a translucent, almost glowing quality, and is harder than steel.

For over 7,000 years, jadeite has been chosen by many cultures to create the most precious pieces of jewelry. It can be found in Myanmar, Guatemala, Mexico and California, but the most rare and most beautiful is the Imperial jadeite found exclusively in Myanmar (formerly Burma). The finest examples of Imperial jadeite are graded upon three qualities that transform it from a beautiful stone to an incredibly rare gem: color, translucency and texture. The most desirable examples of Imperial jadeite display an even, vivid green color, often compared to that of an emerald as seen in this breathtaking pair of jadeite and diamond earrings. The stone should appear glassy in translucency and have a fine texture that allows light to pass through it effortlessly without sacrificing the brilliance of the color.

Though many things have changed in the world since jadeite became known more than seven millennia ago, the awe and desire this viridescent wonder of nature evokes is as powerful today as ever before.

A rare and stunning Burmese Imperial jadeite is the star of this striking ring

A rare and stunning Burmese Imperial jadeite is the star of this striking ring

This exceptional brooch incorporates precious Imperial jadeite, sapphires and tsavorite garnets

This exceptional brooch incorporates precious Imperial jadeite, sapphires and tsavorite garnets

The jadeite in this butterfly brooch exhibits the telltale translucent emerald green color for which this stone is so highly desired.

The jadeite in this butterfly brooch exhibits the telltale translucent emerald green color for which this stone is so highly desired.