Jade is a popular gemstone with a wide variety of colors, translucency, and uses. People love it as ornaments and jewelry, but not many know that Jade isn’t actually the name of the gemstone. It’s referring to two different minerals; Nephrite and Jadeite.
So, what’s the difference between them?
Jade has a long history of use as tools and weapons, both functional and ornamental. Jade gets its name from the belief that it can help relieve kidney stones, colic, and other pains in the side by rubbing the gemstone on the sore spot. This reference to colic had the Romans calling it “ileus”, which became “iliata” in vulgar Latin. This evolved into “piedra de la ijada” in Spain, which translates to “stone of the flank”. “Ijada” traveled to France, where the name became “l’ejade”, then “le jade”, and finally “jade”, or “jadeite”, in modern English. Romans also referred to the stone as lapis nephriticus, or stone of the kidneys.
Nephrite is a magnesium-rich silicate, making much paler in color than it’s cousin Jadeite. It has some green hues from the trace amounts of iron found in the crystal, but its most valuable shades are those closest to white. Nephrite has been used since prehistoric times in China as ceremonial objects, ranging from ornamentation to full battle armor in tombs.
The Māori also prize the green gemstone. As they didn’t have access to metal tools, they would use Nephrite to create them. This led to the gemstone becoming incredibly valuable to the Māori, with it being used as gifts to seal important business dealings.
Jadeite is incredibly aluminum-rich, giving it the wide range of color its known for. It ranges from pale apple greens to deep “jade” green, with shades of azurite blue-green to keep things interesting. This blue shade is called “Olmec blue” for the Olmec peoples that used the blue gemstone as ornaments or in various ceremonies. Most cultures in Central America were fond of jadeite, and with good reason. It can also come in rare shades of pink and lavender, though the rarest colors are the blacks. The most valuable jadeite is dark green with almost clear translucency, but Olmec blue jadeite is steadily rising in popularity.