Jade: Some Simple Historical Facts

Chinese jade was virtually unknown in England until the mid nineteenth century and originally commanded little commercial value within the west. However, in China jade received special significance: it was regarded as “the earth’s precious treasure” and its believed spiritual traits made it cherished above gold or diamond. Jade had been used in China for ceremonial ritual, art, weapons and domestic purposes for thousands of years and was placed in tombs to accompany the dead. Jade, which comes in various colours (the most valuable being a near white mutton fat jade), was believed to possess strong spiritual qualities and was often worn as amulets for protection to ward off evil spirits (bodies have also been discovered wearing head-to-toe burial suits of jade).

Jade is second only to diamond in terms of hardness and could not be carved with metal tools. Instead jade needed to be abraded into shape by a skilled practitioner. This often took many days or weeks until the finished work was completed and antique jade works of art today can command very high prices at auction.

Jade comes in two forms: Nephrite and Jadeite. Nephrite is known as ‘old Jade’ and is the type of Jade used for thousands on years in China. Jadeite comes from Burma and ‘Imperial’ Jadeite is considered the most valuable. Often the finished piece of sculpted jade were accompanied by a Chinese hardwood stand which was individually carved to fit exactly the shape of the jade sculpture.