Beloved for its deep, diverse variations of color, alluring luster, and remarkable durability, the jade stone has captivated hearts and minds for centuries. Its earliest uses date back to the Stone Age, when civilizations painstakingly crafted sharp axe heads and traded carved jade objects as currency. Master craftsmen across centuries and cultures have fashioned a swath of objects from the in-demand stone, including jade jewelry, plaques, sculptures, and even vessels. Today, these valuable artifacts can be found in museums and illustrious collections the world over. So what is jade, how much is it worth, and where does it come from? Here, we explore some of the fundamentals of the jade stone — and what all collectors should know before they buy.
Jade has many imitations, Richardson notes, including chloromelanite (jade albite or “maw-sit-sit”), chrysoprase, serpentine, nepheline, calcite, quartz, aragonite, glaucophane, prehnite and vesuvianite. “Imitations are often sold under misnomers such as ‘Indian jade,’ ‘Australian jade’ or ‘Russian jade,’” she adds.
Unscrupulous sellers may try to pass off less valuable serpentine, quartz or even resin as jade to unsuspecting buyers. A trained eye will immediately be able to identify these imposters from the lack of jade’s distinctive luster. Quartz and serpentine both lack the toughness of jade, so intricate carvings of these stones may show stress fractures and even multiple pieces epoxied (glued) back together. Resin made to mimic jade will be much lighter than genuine pieces.
As with any luxury item, the main determinant of value to you will be how much you love the piece. When buying jade, however, consider not only the color and size of stones, but also the artistry in carving that may elevate a piece beyond the value of its color. Modern jade jewelry and objets d’art are diverse in their appeal and their intricacy. Historical pieces of jade will have tremendous value determined by the provenance that is available, as well as the quality of the color and the carving.