Jade is a naturally occuring mineral most often found in shades of Green, but it can also be found in Browns, Oranges, White, Cream and Pink. It can be carved and polished to a very smooth finish, lending itself perfectly to jewellery making. Jade features strongly in Asian art, but also appears in many other cultures and locations, including South America, Canada and New Zealand.
Jade can refer to two different types of mineral: nephrite, a silicate of calcium and magnesium, or jadeite, a silicate of sodium and aluminum.
Nephrite Jade was first used during Neolithic times, in China, for utilitarian and ceremonial items. It came from the now-depleted deposits in the Ningshao area in the Yangtze River Delta and Dushan Jade was being mined as early as 6000 BC.
Jade was used to create many objects, from decorative housewares to jade burial suits. Jade has been considered to be the “imperial gem”, from the earliest Chinese dynasties to the present day. In Lantian, Shaanxi white and greenish nephrite jade is found in small quarries and as pebbles and boulders in the rivers. The river jade collection is concentrated in the Yarkand, the White Jade (Yurungkash) and Black Jade (Karakash) Rivers. On the southern part of the Silk Road, annual payments consisting of the most precious white jade were made to the Chinese Imperial court. They were worked into valuable objects d’art by skilled artisans. Jade became a favourite material for the crafting of Chinese scholars’ objects, such as rests for calligraphy brushes, as well as the mouthpieces of some opium pipes, due to the belief that breathing through jade would bestow long life.
Jadeite, in vivid emerald-green, pink, lavender, orange and brown was imported from Burma to China after about 1800. The bright green jade became known as Feicui (翡翠) or Kingfisher (feathers) Jade. It quickly became almost as popular as nephrite and a favorite of the nouveau riche, while scholars still preferred nephrite (white jade, or Khotan), which they felt symbolised noblemen.
The Chinese character 玉 (yù) is used to denote the several types of stone known in English as “jade” and because of the value added culturally to jades throughout Chinese history, the word has also come to refer more generally to precious or ornamental stones and is very common in more symbolic usage as in phrases.
In the history of the art of the Chinese empire, jade has had a special significance, comparable with that of gold and diamonds. Jade was used for the finest objects, including grave furnishings for high-ranking members of the imperial family. Today, due to it’s cultutal significance and the rising middle class in China, the value of jade and it’s popularity has increased greatly, with the finest jade, seeing a tenfold increase in value making it a popular choice for collectors across the world.
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