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The History of Jade Gemstone Art

Lyle Sopel -

Dear Collector Friend,

Jade has always been my premier gemstone of choice. I fell in love with this entrancing material even before I saw it. Standing, many years ago, among a group of people who were having a conversation about different gemstones, I overheard someone mention the word “jade”. I felt so familiar with the sound of that word that it felt as if they were saying my very own name. Following that unmistakable calling, I chose jade as the first medium that I would explore fervently as a young artist.

My fascination with jade further deepened as I became aware of its incredibly rich history, one that spans 6,000 years of tradition. As you will read below, it has been revered by members of the royal court and elevated societies the world over, captivating the desire and fascination of humans for millennia…

Jade is a gemstone of unique symbolic energy, richly surrounded by myths and lore. With its beauty and range of expressiveness, jade has held a special attraction within many cultures for innumerable years. Over the centuries, jade gemstone art has merged with traditional and modern aesthetics in whimsical and harmonious ways. In gemstone therapy it is said that jade stimulates creativity and mental agility, along with having a balancing and harmonizing effect. This sublime gemstone is known for bringing qualities of joy, vivacity and happiness.
jade-gemstone-art Jade has long been distinguished as a status symbol in South Asian, Central American and Meso-American cultures. However, while many diverse cultures have carved jade gemstone, it is really the Chinese who raised it to the level of an exquisite art form. Jade’s translucence, subtle colours, and rarity added to its great allure, and soon it began to be used as a ritual object. Before long, royalty and high-status individuals were wearing jade gemstone art as ornamental jewelry. Today, a visit to one of Hong Kong’s jade markets or auctions organized by Christie’s can give some idea of the distinction this gem has for the people of Asia. As the Chinese saying states, “Gold has a value; jade is invaluable.”

Jade is a prevalent term that encompasses a wide array of gemstones but the only pure forms of jade are jadeite, which is hard, and nephrite, which is soft. China was only in possession of soft jade until jadeite was imported from Burma during the Qing dynasty (1271-1368). Once China gained control over the upper Burmese mines, jadeite quickly became a favorite with the Qing Imperial court. Today, nearly all jade jewelry is made from Burmese jadeite.

jade buddha june blog

As long ago as the Pre-Columbian Period, the Mayans, Aztecs and Olmecs of Central America also admired and revered jade more greatly than gold. Jade gemstone art was especially appreciated by Meso-American and Lower Central American people because of its brilliant green color.

Jade gemstone was associated with vegetation, water, and especially young, maturing corn. For this reason, it was also related to vitality and fatality. It was traded and exchanged among aristocratic comrades as a luxury item all over the Pre-Hispanic American world. Olmec, Mayan, Aztec, and Costa Rican elites appreciated jade carvings and artifacts, commissioning sumptuous pieces from skillful artisans. Adorning themselves and their residences with jade gemstone art, they communicated joy and status to those around them.

The Maori people of New Zealand began using jade to carve weapons, such as plow points, axe-heads, chisels and fish hooks because of its toughness. In early times, they would carve cult instruments from genuine jade; a tradition which has remained alive and prosperous today.

jade maori

Jadeite is made up primarily of sodium aluminum silicate, while nephrite is a calcium and magnesium-rich aggregate. The spectrum of jade colours encompasses vivid and subtle tones, including white, green, russet, black, and even elegant lavenders. The green of jade comes from chromium impurities, similar to those present in emeralds.

The most highly sought after jadeite is the infamous Imperial Green, which boasts a clear, flawless transparency, along with a true emerald green color that gives it the appearance of a drop of pure green oil. A single cabochon of such high-quality jade has sold for $1.7 million, surprisingly more valuable carat-for-carat than diamonds.

With a rich tapestry of lore that has been passed down from generation to generation and cherished by many cultures throughout history, jade gemstone art has a history forever held in the hearts of all who adore, bare, collect, and display it.


Art, Nature, and Beauty Always,


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