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The Ancient and Fascinating History of Jade

January 31, 2020

The Ancient and Fascinating History of Jade

By Chelsea Reed

Jade is a gemstone that’s familiar to a lot of us. Its friendly green color welcomes anyone who gazes upon it. People have appreciated jade since the prehistoric era! Few stones on planet Earth have a history as rich as jade. How much do you know about this amazing gemstone? Get ready to put on your explorer’s hat and find out! We’re going back in time to follow the epic adventure of jade.


Jadeite and Nephrite: A Tale of Two Sisters 

Did you know that jade is two gemstones? They’re called jadeite and nephrite, and both of them are closely related. People have worked with the two sister stones for thousands of years, but their slight differences weren’t discovered until 1863. By then the name stuck, and both stones are called jade to this day.

Jadeite and nephrite are metamorphic stones, like granite. They’re formed with pressure beneath the rumbling tectonic plates... deep in the earth’s hot mantle. It takes a long time for both jades to reach the surface. When they do, they’re usually found near streams and basins. Scientists think that most jade is between 141 to 570 million years old.

Nephrite has a lighter color and is commonly found in Asia... while Jadeite is harder and is a richer green. There’s a lot of jadeite in North America, but the most common commercial source is a key deposit in the country of Myanmar in Asia. 

People have carved jade since prehistoric times. Its durability makes it good for sharp weapons… in the Stone Age, it was used for knives and axe heads. Colorful specimens were crafted into jewelry and decorative objects. There are many different colors of jade like purple, gray, red and yellow. Green is the most prized color, especially in China. Chinese craftsmen have worked with jade for over 5,000 years! The most precious green jade is called Imperial Jade. Only the Emperor’s court was allowed to wear it. 

Green Jade Turtle and Baby

Jade Gains Worldwide Fame

Believe it or not, China isn’t the only country who prizes jade. Nephrite is important to the indigenous Maori culture of New Zealand. For centuries they’ve hand crafted the local jade into swords of high renown, called “mere pounamu.” The Maori warriors shared strong endearment to their mere pounamu and gave them personal names. They were common heirlooms for younger generations. Some were even buried with their deceased owners. It was a great honor to own a mere pounamu because it was the most prized of all Maori weapons. Today, you can see a mere pounamu at a museum, or Maori cultural event in New Zealand.

Jade was the prime carving stone of the Olmec, Mayan and Aztec civilizations in the Americas.  Artisans transformed jade into amulets, figurines, flasks, and other decorative items. Mayan nobles wore jade badges that symbolized rank. And in the Aztec society, jade was reserved only for royals on special occasions. 

American jade deposits are in many other places too, such as Wyoming and Arizona. There is even jade found as far north as Alaska! The jade deposits in Alaska are large enough to fill a whole mountain range. It’s no wonder that jade is Alaska’s official state gem. 

Black Jade Elephant

The Saga Continues

The story of jade is amazing! We’ve only scratched its surface. It’s one of the first gemstones ever handled by humans. And it certainly won’t be the last. Its beautiful colors are valued by people all over the world. You don’t have to travel far to find jade at Michael’s Gems and Glass. It’s available right here on this website. See and enjoy the beauty of hand carved jade for yourself! It’s a timeless treat for every generation. 



Chelsea Reed is a copywriter who writes online content, articles, blogs, and websites from her base in North Carolina.

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