An Introduction to Jadeite, The Most Prized Gemstone in China"
What is Jadeite?
Jadeite is a highly prized gemstone that comes in a variety of colours, such as green, grey and white. Made of two different types of ornamental rocks – nephrite and jadeite – jade has been coveted for its beauty and unique properties for centuries. Nephrite jade was the first to be discovered in China and was used and carved extensively.
However, in the 14th century, jadeite began to be traded more widely in China. Jadeite is harder, denser, and easier to work with than nephrite, so it became the preferred form of jade for Chinese artisans and the Chinese people. Today, most of the jade trade in China is jadeite.
Jadeite Properties and Price
Unlike other valuable gems or precious metals, jadeite is not a single polished and cut crystal like diamonds or rubies. Instead, it is composed of interlocking micro-crystals, rendering each piece entirely unique, as shown in the right-hand photo above. Due to its nature, experts are required to value pieces of Jadeite. Multiple factors must be considered, such as size, colour, impurities and translucency.
Despite the complicated valuation process, Jadeite is typically split into 3 categories; Utility, Commercial, and Imperial Jadeite. Utility Jadeite is largely grey and used for creating, ornaments, jewellery and products. Commercial Jadeite is of a higher quality and is often used for decorative items, due to its colour and aesthetic. Imperial Jadeite is exceedingly rare, with high levels of translucency and saturation it is the most prized form of Jadeite.
It is worth noting, however, that due to the potential variants in Jade, rare pieces can sell at a premium, so, for example, a rare piece of Utility Jade could sell at a premium to a standard Commercial piece.
Over the past six years, the average prices in Burma for raw Utility, Commercial and Imperial Jadeite were $164/kg, $1,792/kg and $219,909/kg respectively.
In China, Imperial specimens can sell at over $3 million per carat, the same price per carat as diamonds in the United States. To date, the most expensive Imperial Jadeite Necklace was sold at Sotheby’s in 2014 for $27 million dollars.
The Jadeite Market
Myanmar (Burma), is responsible for mining 99% of the world's jadeite. According to official figures from 2016-2018, jadeite production in Myanmar averaged 34,000 tonnes each year. A large portion of this jadeite production is exported to China unofficially, so the estimated market size is between $6 billion and $30 billion per year. Despite several independent studies, the jadeite market in Myanmar remains opaque.
According to a fascinating white paper by the China Jewellery and Jade Jewellery Association last year, Burmese auctions stopped in 2019 and have not reopened. Previously some 6-8 auctions were held annually to supply China with raw Jadeite. Official supply has tightened and indicated annual tonnage appears to have dropped to as little as 8500 tonnes!
The reason for this dramatic drop is partially due to covid, but also the Kachin rebels and the Burmese army fighting in northern Burma. However, a key fact is that Burma has restricted mining and exports and industry experts are predicting continued shortages and depletion of mines.
Jadeite Mining in Myanmar (Burma)
Burmese jadeite is mined from alluvial deposits and sorted by hand. These mines primarily yield small jadeite stones that are suitable for manufacturing smaller items such as jewellery and bracelets. However, on the rare occasion that a large stone is discovered, it is highly valued and traded for a large premium.
As you may know, the Burmese Mining conditions are perilous. As you can see in the picture above, these are far from safe mining conditions for workers in Burma. The nature of alluvial deposits makes landslides a common occurrence
At Jade Vault, we're proud to solely source Jade ethically, from a professionally managed mining operation.
Jadeite Culture & History
Jade has a rich and fascinating history that dates back to ancient times. It has been prized for its unique properties and is considered a symbol of wealth and power in many cultures around the world. Jade has been mined and worked in Central Asia, the Middle East, and China since the Stone Age, and it has been used to create a wide range of artefacts, including simple ornaments, tools, and weapons.
In ancient cultures, jade was believed to have special powers, including healing and medicinal properties, and was often used in religious and spiritual rituals. It was also revered for its beauty and was used to create intricate carvings, decorations, and jewellery for the wealthy and powerful.
In China, jade has been considered a symbol of status, spirituality, purity, and health for over 9,000 years. It became known as "Yu" or the "royal gem" by 3000 BC and was highly prized by society’s wealthiest and most influential members. It is of no surprise then, that in Chinese writing, the character for "emperor" looks almost identical to the character for "jade".
The wealthiest and most influential members of society were often buried in jade suits, which were extremely costly and took years to assemble. The thread used to join the pieces of jade was often made of gold, silver, copper, silk, or other materials depending on the status of the person buried.
Jadeite in The Economy
Due to China's rapid economic growth, demand for jadeite has skyrocketed in recent years, causing prices to increase tenfold over the past decade. Many people view jade as an investment and are hesitant to sell their pieces, resulting in very little good second-hand jade on the market. A recent article in the Financial Times indicated that Chinese investors are investing in Jadeite over property.
In addition to being used in finely crafted sculptures and gifts, jade has also been used in Chinese calligraphy brushes, chess sets, mah-jong sets, and as the mouthpieces of opium pipes. It is believed to have health-giving properties and symbolises virginity among women and outstanding honesty and moral courage in men.
Interestingly, there has recently been a movement from in-person Jade sales to online auctions. In 2021 alone, $38 billion worth of Jade was traded online, compared to $5 billion in in-person sales.
Today, jade remains a popular and highly sought-after gemstone. It is used in a variety of jewellery and decorative items and is prized by collectors for its value and unique properties. Whether you are a collector, a jewellery lover, or simply someone who appreciates the beauty and history of gemstones, jade is sure to capture your attention and imagination. It is a timeless and enduring gemstone that has captivated people for centuries with its allure and beauty.
Thank you for reading our introduction to Jade, we hope you found it insightful! If you're interested in ethically sourced Jade, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, we'd love to hear from you.