Jadeite - Green with Envy

Discover the true value of jadeite through gemological identification



22 November 2013

There have been many Chinese collectors bidding at major auctions in Hong Kong, where top quality jadeite has attained increasingly high prices. A piece of green stone could be a flea market item, or it could be a treasure worth up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. So how do we know? Luckily, with advanced technology, jadeite identification now follows a very strict set of scientific criteria which reassures both consumers and new collectors.

Test of time
Jadeite is a hard jade, which is sodium aluminium silicate in a crystalline form. It can be red, white, purple and so on, with green being the most familiar and popular colour. The Chinese name of jadeite originates from the East Han Dynasty (A.D. 25-220). The term was chronicled in China's very first dictionary written by philosopher Xu Shen, who said that jadeite's vibrant colours are as variable as a bird's feathers. By the Song Dynasty (A.D. 960-1279), the word 'jadeite' meant any jade item, whereas today it specifically indicates Burma's top grade jadeite. During the final years of Qianlong, Emperor from the Qing Dynasty (late 18th century), green jadeite gained wide popularity, with the infamous Empress Dowager Cixi being its most enthusiastic advocate. Ever since the late Qing Dynasty, jadeite's popularity has only risen and maintained its enduring value over the centuries.

Jadeite can be found in Russia, Japan, China and other countries, but as far as quality goes, Myanmar's production is the best. Every year, the biggest jewellers from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan go to yearly auctions held by the Burmese government to bid for this gemstone.

Jadeite's value comes from its rarity. Jade merchants bet their luck on the roughs hidden in boulders, which do not reveal what is inside until they are cut open. Finding a piece of useless rock or a rare gemstone with Imperial Green is just a matter of luck, and this unique method of extraction only seems to add to jadeite's mystique over time.

Trilogy of identification and appreciation
There are three factors determining jadeite's quality and value: texture, colour and transparency. First, let's take a look at jadeite's texture and structure. Generally, the smaller the gemstone, the finer its texture. Top quality jadeite is very rare. Gemologists categorize jadeite into 'old mine' – green, bright and smooth – qualities that enable it to reach six-figure prices at auctions – versus 'new mine' with inferior quality, thus lower prices.

Colour is another important factor. Pure Imperial Green is preferred to any colour impurity, bluish or yellowish shades which will greatly undermine the gemstone's value. Light or dark green is just a question of personal taste and does not determine the value of top quality jadeite.

Transparency refers to the jadeite's clarity and light refraction properties. The clearest jadeite is categorized as glass-like and it is also the most sought-after.

Top quality jadeite with good texture, colour and transparency is a rare find with sky-high values. Despite the financial crisis, top jadeite has exceeded 10 million Hong Kong dollars at recent auctions, and fierce bidding amongst enthusiastic investors and collectors only pushes prices higher.

The real McCoy
The counterfeit market wants a cut of this valuable gemstone too. B-grade gemstones have been incorporated with resin, while C-grade contains artificial colour. Hong Kong Jewellery Trade Laboratory Limited's Manager Ms. C.L. Lee points out, “In recent year, B-grade products are of such high quality that even connoisseurs cannot distinguish them from the real ones.”

Acid is used to incorporated resin into B-grade jadeite, whose natural structure is destroyed and thus cannot be categorized as 'jade' any more. C-grade products exist in the market and are low-grade.

Scientific identification technology is crucial in distinguishing fakes. A gemologist explained, “Resin shows up in an infrared spectrum, where you can also see whether artificial colour has been added.”

In recent years, auction houses have been re-promoting jadeite in the market. For example, setting jadeite with semi-precious stones gives this 'old-fashioned' green gem a more fashionable look which the younger generation prefers. On the other hand, some collectors entrust their best jadeite to Europe's jewellery maisons which turn it into one-of-a-kind collectable jewellery pieces, making the jadeite even more valuable. A famous Hong Kong socialite had commissioned Chanel to design her long-treasured jadeite into a stunning treasure before she passed away. The necklace is known to have passed down to her children who still own it today.