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Jade has been cherished for over 5000 years and is considered an even more precious stone than diamonds in East Asia countries. Natural jade is a sacred stone. Jade carvings are centerpieces in temples, and jade jewelry is passed from generation to generation. Unfortunately, so much attention to jade created numerous treatments, imitations, and fakes. Let’s find out how to identify real jade.
Real jade (no matter whether it is nephrite or jadeite) is a metamorphic rock made up of tiny interlocking mineral crystals. It is hard (6–7 on the Mohs scale), extremely tough, and cannot be scratched by a knife or glass. Real untreated jade doesn’t glow under UV light in most cases.
Jade is the only name in gemology that can stay for two different minerals. The word “jade” is a generic term for nephrite and jadeite. That is why identifying real jade correctly, both jadeite and nephrite properties should be considered.
Identifying real jade is challenging and requires professional gemologist help and state-of-the-art laboratory equipment in the case of expensive stones. Further, we will describe how to separate the most common jade fakes and identify real jade properties with the help of a lope (or, better, a microscope), a UV light source, and the hardness test kit (a piece of glass and a knife).
If you are interested in checking out the best books about rock and minerals identification you can find them by clicking here (Amazon link).
What Does Real Jade Look Like
We get used to the common perception that jade occurs in green color exclusively; however, real natural jade has something to surprise you! For example, jade can be white, gray, yellow, and even black and lavender.
Real jade looks like green, white, orange, yellow, lavender, and black opaque to semi-transparent mineral aggregate with fine, medium to coarse grain texture. In most cases, common-quality real jade can come in a combination of white, green, and brown colors or white and lavender colors.
Jade is formed under high-pressure metamorphic conditions, so in its rough state in the outcrop, you can see layers of jade that trace some fractures perpendicular to the direction of forces.
Secondary deposits of jade are river pebbles. Jade is mined mainly from this kind of deposit as nature wore away weak minerals and low-quality jade.
Suppose you buy jade in an already processed (tumbled, cabochon, or carved) state. In that case, jade will look opaque to semi-transparent with a waxy to glassy luster.
Jadeite jade can have lightly colored, almost yellow zones with orange to brown spots. In contrast, nephrite jade is commonly more yellowish green with dark brown, nearly black inclusions.
What is Jade Made of
Jade is a very tricky material. Only in 1863 were scientists able to distinguish that jade can be made of two different minerals jadeite and nephrite. That is why gemologists carefully study the chemical composition of two minerals to identify jade correctly.
Jade is a generic term for nephrite and jadeite – two different minerals which macroscopically look very similar. Nephrite jade is a microcrystalline rock composed of the amphibole group minerals (tremolite to actinolite) and jadeite jade of the pyroxene group minerals (jadeite).
Both jadeite and nephrite’s look and feel can be similar, but they have distinctly different chemical compositions. Jadeite and nephrite jade are metamorphic rocks made of tiny interlocking mineral crystals.
Nephrite and jadeite are both extremely tough, but the two materials derive their toughness from slightly different structures. While jadeite’s structure is an arrangement of grainy crystals, nephrite consists of fibrous crystals interlocked in a matted, tufted texture.
How to Tell Jade from Serpentine
Being so popular throughout millennia, jade gave rise to cheaper jade substituents and imitations. However, if plastic and glass (the most common jade fakes) can be identified easily, natural material like serpentinite that closely associates with some types of jade is hard to tell apart material.
Serpentine (serpentinite) is a metamorphic rock that closely resembles jade. However, serpentinite is softer than jade and can easily be scratched by a knife. Another characteristic feature distinguishing serpentinite from jade is its greasy luster and opaque black inclusions of chromite mineral.
Serpentine-group minerals are common rock-forming hydrous phyllosilicates and serpentinite as a rock is sometimes used as an imitation of jadeite and nephrite because of its similar aggregate structure and color appearance.
To tell jade from serpentinite, pay attention to the next serpentinite’s properties:
- Serpentinite is commonly more yellowish colored than jade.
- Serpentinite is softer. Its hardness varies between 3 and 6 on the Mohs scale, so in most cases, serpentinite can be scratched by a knife.
- Serpentinite has a greasy or waxy luster, while jade will have a higher luster from waxy to glassy. See the article Step-by-Step Guide: Testing Mineral’s Luster like a PRO.
- Serpentinite can have chromite mineral inclusions that are black and completely opaque, while jade doesn’t usually have black inclusions.
- The serpentinite’s specific gravity is also lower than jade’s (2.6 against 2.9 – 3.5), but this requires some essential lab equipment to be measured.
TIP: Jade is highly praised for its vivid green color, but sometimes the color is a result of dyeing. Check out the complete guide on how to tell if jade is dyed in the article below:
Step-by-Step Guide: How to Tell & Identify if Jade is Dyed
How is Jade Formed
Jadeite jade formed in high-pressure, low-temperature metamorphic environments in combination with fluids typical for subduction zones. Nephrite jade formed by metasomatism in various geological settings and dolomite or serpentinite contact with silicon- or calcium-containing fluids, respectively.
Jadeite is restricted to certain metamorphic rocks undergoing metamorphism at high pressures but relatively low temperatures. Therefore, the formation conditions for jadeite should meet many rare factors to produce gem-quality Imperial jade.
Nephrite jade, which is also a product of metamorphism (and fluid infiltration), does not apparently require the extraordinary pressure and temperature conditions of jadeite and is much more widespread. It is also found in association with serpentinite in all known localities.
Geological conditions for jadeite jade formation are far rarer than that for nephrite. Jadeite’s emerald green color results from chromium impurities, while the nephrite color is produced by iron. In nature iron, if more widespread than chrome. This is why jadeite jade is rarer and more expensive than nephrite.
Is Jade a Rock or Mineral
Jade is a microcrystalline rock created by high-pressure metamorphic processes. It comprises interlocked or interwoven tiny crystals of jadeite or nephrite (tremolite-actinolite-ferroactinolite series). Also, numerous other minerals from the matrix are present in common jade.
You may ask why it is a rock if I cannot see mineral grains in semi-transparent jade pieces. The reason is that mineral crystals which compose jade are so tiny and interlocked that it is impossible to recognize with the naked eye.
Where Does Mineral Jade Come From
Jade comes from a high-pressure metamorphic environment. Jadeite jade’s primary source is Myanmar (the Jade Tract). Other jadeite sources are Guatemala, Russia, Japan, and the US state of California. The primary sources of nephrite jade are British Columbia, Canada, China, Russia, and Korea.
TIP: Many people use the terms rock, mineral, crystal, stone, and gemstone interchangeably, but these terms actually have specific meanings. Find out the explanation in the article below:
Rock, Mineral, or Crystal? What’s the Difference?
How to Identify Jade
Jade is one of the most complex gemstones for identification. It is only possible to differentiate between jadeite and nephrite jade with additional gemological equipment. Additionally, numerous jade fakes are also hardly identifiable.
Jade is a microcrystalline rock. To identify real rough jade, observe fracture under the loup to find tightly interlocking crystals. Jade is tough and hard, so a knife or glass cannot scratch it. Natural jade rarely glows under UV; if it does – it is a sign of treatment.
To identify jade, especially of gem quality, refer to a professional gemologist or submit a stone to a gemological lab. Here we can give you some basic steps for jade identification. But for the final decision is necessary to consult with a professional.
- Carefully observe the jade sample. Pay attention to luster. Greasy luster signifies fakes like plastic or natural substituents like serpentinite.
- Check the hardness (DIY Guide: Testing Mineral’s Hardness). Real jade is hard and cannot be scratched by a pocket knife or glass.
- Check the type of fracture. Splintery fracture is typical for natural jade, while conchoidal fracture is a sign of glass fakes.
- Observe the sample under magnification. Pay attention to inclusions. Natural jade should not have black chromite inclusions, which are typical for serpentinite. Some glass imitations can have bubbles or flow structures.
- UV light test can help to separate untreated jade and polymer-impregnated and dyed jade. Natural untreated jade is inert to UV light.
These basic steps will give an approximate understanding of the material you are observing. Additional tips for differentiation between real and fake jade can be checked here: Real vs. Fake Jade: Fucus on These Crucial 5 Differences.
For further identification, it is necessary to conduct a specific gravity test if the sample is not set into a piece of jewelry. The specific gravity of real jade is higher than that of many jade substituents.
Modern gemological labs can hold some spectroscopic analyses to identify the type of jade and to distinguish between jadeite and nephrite jade.
BTW: Do you want to know more about rock and mineral identification? The books listed below are the best ones you can find on the internet (Amazon links):
- Smithsonian Handbooks: Rocks & Minerals
- Gemstone & Crystal Properties (Quick Study Home)
- Ultimate Explorer Field Guide: Rocks and Minerals (National Geographic Kids)
How to Test Jade with UV Light
UV light test is used to identify whether jade was treated (dyed and/or polymer impregnated). The prices for untreated, polymer-impregnated, and dyed jade are dramatically different. Therefore, a UV test can save you from a treated jade or a fake purchase.
To test a jade with UV light, you need to prepare a dark room and clean the sample’s surface. Then, check the piece both with short-wave and long-wave UV light. Natural untreated jade is inert to UV light. Strong fluorescence in jadeite is an indication of polymer impregnation and dye.
UV light test was agreed to be extremely helpful in identifying dying. Manufacturers always try to upgrade the color of low-quality material and reach the most famous Imperial green color.
Sometimes they even dye jade that already has lovely natural green spots. In this case, green produced by dyeing will glow under UV, and natural green areas will stay inert (Source).
Nothing works without exception in nature. Therefore, the UV light test has some restrictions in the case of lavender and light yellow jade. Sometimes natural untreated lavender jade can glow weekly under UV.
TIP: Many minerals have the ability to fluoresce and they glow when observed under ultraviolet (UV) light. Find out the complete guide about rockhounding with UV light in the article below:
GUIDE: Rockhounding with UV Light & 3 Best UV Lights (2022)
What Properties Does Jade Have
Jadeite jade and nephrite jade will have slightly different properties. Jade can occur in different colors, but green is the most typical. Jade is hard (6 – 7) and extremely tough. Specific gravity is also high: 2.90 – 3.02 for nephrite and 3.3 – 3.5 for jadeite.
The unique property of jade is toughness. A firm interlocking texture makes jade tough enough to withstand repeated hammer blows. In the early days of its history, when it was used to fashion tools and weapons, jadeite’s ability to resist breakage was one of its significant advantages.
What Are Different Colors (Types) of Jade
Even not considering jade differentiation between nephrite jade and jadeite jade, there are many jade types. In general, jade types are based on color. Chinese people have their own jade nomenclature.
Sometimes people pay attention to differences in textures and patterns. In contrast, others prefer to differentiate jade according to the source of the material. You are welcome to check the values of different types of jade.
Jade is typically perceived as a green gemstone; however, jade can occur in a rainbow of colors. There are lavender, white, purple, black, pink, red, yellow, and brown colors of jade. Some particular types include Imperial, apple, ice, moss-in-snow, mutton fat, and spinach jade.
There are three most valuable jade types:
- Imperial jade – emerald green color jadeite jade.
- Lavender jade – light-colored pinkish jadeite jade
- Mutton fat jade – white nephrite jade.
Nowadays, Ice jade, which is a white and gray semi-transparent jadeite jade, gains its popularity.
Natural jade is one of the most complex gemstones for identification. The reason for this is the abundance of natural and man-made substituents. We encourage you to send jade for identification to a reliable gemological laboratory.
Some basic properties need to be tested for jade identification.
- Luster. Jade has a waxy to glassy luster.
- Fracture. Reak jade has splintery and uneven fractures.
- Hardness. Real jade is hard (6-7) and cannot be scratched by a pocket knife or a piece of glass.
- Inclusions. Gas bubbles and opaque black minerals are not typical for natural jade.
- UV response. Real untreated jade, in most cases, is inert to UV light.
TIP: If you follow serpentine veins, especially near ridges, you may also have a high chance of finding jade as well. Find out more about the best environments and locations where to find jade in the article below:
Where to Find Jade: 4 Best Locations Near Me (United States)