JADE: THE PRECIOUS STONE PAR EXCELLENCE
Few precious stones possess the wealth of legend and magic tradition,, the sense of eternal mystery and inscrutable finesse, the aura of antiquity and opulence that is evoked by a word like JADE.
For many peoples jade and green are synonyms to this day. Jade immediately brings to mind the fabulous past of Imperial China and its mysteries. Ever since prehistoric times, in fact, the Chinese worked a material they called yu and it was the same as what we now call jade, a term taken from the ancient Spanish "pietra de Hijada", i.e. kidney stone, because it was the custom to use it as an amulet and cure for kidney trouble.
It was Cortes and his conquistadores who introduced the material into Europe after finding innumerable pieces of worked jade in the treasures of the Central American Indians. The name then spread to all the Europe and thence to the rest of the world.
Civilizations of all ages have appreciated this stone and all races that came across it kept it in the highest consideration. In the prehistoric civilization, especially in Valtellina and the Swiss Lakes in Europe and in Guatemala and Mexico, it was greatly appreciated on account ofits hardness and used it for making tools. The precolumbian civilizations made their sacrificial knives from it. Among the Maoris in New Zealand a warrior?s mace made of jade was the symbol of the chieftain?s authority and in the Loyalty Islands (New Caledonia) fathers traded their daughter for jade. China, again, constructed the whole of its civilization around this material.
Strangely enough, the scientific nature of jade was not completely understood in the West until 1863, when the Frenchman Damour demonstrated that the name jade was commonly applied to two minerals, jadeite, and nephrite, that were really quite distinct from each other. The first of these is generally valued more highly for jewelry and sculptures, because high-quality jadeite has a brilliant green colour, while even the best quality nephrite tends to be rather darker in colour. In the East, on the other hand, Chinese culture was already aware of this distinction long before Damour published the results of his researches: indeed, when brilliant green jadeite from Myanmar (ex Burma) began to arrive in China in the eighteenth century, the Chinese called it fei-tsui rather than yu, which was the name they had normally used for jade until that time.
Taken together, jadeite and nephrite have more imitations than the greater part of the other gems. In fact, their deep colour and their compact structure have rendered these two materials favourites among gem lovers all over the world. One can therefore understand quite readily why other and less precious materials came to usurp their name in the hope of thereby gaining reflected value and glory. But one should also note that the names for JADE are still subject to much heated controversy even today, and that a great deal of misinformation, myth and superstition still surrounds this gem.