Nephrite – The Inexpensive Tough Cousin of Jadeite Jade

Nephrite and Jadeite are both called jade, but they are completely different mineralogically.  Most North Americans are picturing  jadeite when they say the word “Jade”.  Yet nephrite can be found in both the United States and Canada and is more common than jadeite.

Nephrite Elephant Carving by Carl Faberge

Flickr Photo by B Tse

This elephant is carved and polished nephrite, set with diamonds for eyes.  This is an unusually large carving by Carl Faberge very similar to the six nephrite elephant carvings in the Royal Collection, London.

Nephrite vs Jadeite

Nephrite Perfume Bottle at the Smithsonian

Nephrite Perfume Bottle Photo Smithsonian Institute

Jadeite and nephrite are almost never found in proximity with each other.  Chinese jade was what we call nephrite and the stone used by the ancient Americans is now called jadeite.  They are both mineral species arising from special metamorphic conditions.  Nephrite has a fibrous, matted construction, is a calcium magnesium silicate and is a member of the tremolite-actinolite series.  Jadeite crystals have a compact, granular appearance and are part of a group of minerals known as the pyroxenes, it is a sodium aluminum silicate.

Nephrite is Fibrous and Tough

Nephrite is only average on the hardness scale, yet it is tougher than steel.   It is the toughest gem material.  Examples of nephrite weapons and tools used by the Mauri of New Zealand can be seen at the Museum of New Zealand.  The reason for nephrite’s toughness is that it has a fibrous interlocking structure and is densly packed.  This stone is not brittle and can keep a sharper edge than even bronze or iron!

Nephrite Comes in Many Colours

Nephrite Buddha

Jade Buddha For Universal Peace Flickr Photo Andy Leddy

Nephrite ranges from creamy white, yellow, green and gray to black in colour.  Best-known and highly prized is the green.   Jadeite is green, white, lilac, pink, brown, red, blue, black, orange and yellow and a single piece can contain more than one colour.  Translucent, emerald green jadeite is called “Imperial Jade” and is the most precious of all jade.  Nephrite is found in China, the former USSR, New Zealand, Taiwan, British Columbia (Canada) and the U.S. and is more common than jadeite, which is mainly found in Burma (Myanmar), USA and Guatemala.

This Jade Buddha For Universal Peace is the largest Buddha carved from jade.  This gemstone quality nephrite jade is called “Polar Jade” and came from British Columbia, Canada.

Next time you use the word “Jade”; be aware that you are talking about one of two different minerals and that price, locality and colours vary between the two jades.

Your Input

(Join our poll or Scroll Down To The Bottom and leave a comment) – Emerald is winning the poll!

Nephrite Asian Art Museum San Francisco

Flickr Photo by Eric in SF

I plan to introduce different gemstones alphabetically.  I started with “A” (Ammolite) and it has taken me to Malachite!  Leave a comment and let me know if you have a favourite gemstone that starts with the letter “O”.  Take the poll!  Can you name a reference to a gemstone in a song, movie or book?


About Jen McKercher

Jennifer McKercher teaches gemmology at the Canadian Gemmological Association. A passion for gemstones drives Jen to learn as much as she can about the wonders of gemstones and how they enhance our lives.

Posted on November 18, 2011, in Individual Gemstones and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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