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Spratling Renaissance Lance

Stratling Logo


Spratling Renaissance Original Reproduction

Azteca  Lance ( Aztec Lance)

4  inches or 10 cm. long and 1 inches  or 2.5 cm. wide.

Weight 43.5 Grams


by Kim Be Howard, A.G. (C.I.G.), Surrey, B.C.

1. Introduction

Jadeite is one of the minerals that fall under the generic category of jade. The word jade is used in both English and French and came, according to the Oxford Universal English Dictionary (Little, Fowler, and Coulson 1955: 1057) from the Spanish word ijada. The Spanish referred to it as piedra de ijada, or colic stone. The reason for this is that when the Spanish conquered Mexico they discovered that people in Mexico powdered jadeite and mixed it with water as a cure for numerous internal disorders. The first recorded use of this term is by Nicol Monardes in a work on medicinal plants of the New World written in 1565 (Easby 1968: 7).

The two stones that are primarily categorized as jade are nephrite and jadeite. initially they were considered to be the same mineral, but in 1863 they were found to differ (Damour 1863, and see Damour 1846, 1881). Damour discovered that one variety of jade was a silicate of sodium and aluminum, whereas the other was a silicate of lime and magnesia. As a result of his findings, he (1863: 865) proposed the name “jadéite” for the first mineral to distinguish it from the second (i.e., nephrite). The present paper focuses on jadeite.

2. History of Jadeite

Jadeite is closely associated with two ancient civilizations, those of Mesoamerica[1] and China. Jadeite was used by most of the major civilizations in ancient Mesoamerica: the Olmec, Aztec, Maya, and so forth. It was highly prized throughout the region: “Gold did not have the same intrinsic value for Mesoamerican peoples… that is has for us…Jade was of greater value” (Noguera 1971: 268). Among the early Spanish writers of the sixteenth century, Sahagun (1963: 222) comments that “emerald green Jade… its appearance is like a green quetzal feather. And its body is as transparent and as dense as obsidian. It is precious, esteemed, valuable…” In his account of Aztec civilization, Vaillant (1965: 139-140) remarks:

The most precious substance among the Aztecs was jade, or stones resembling it in texture and colour… The Aztecs did not have our modern esteem for gold, so the Spaniards had great difficulty in getting it at first. The Mexican Indians responded to the invaders’ demands for objects of value by offering jade and turquoise, those substances most precious to themselves… Such misguided compliance was highly irritating to Cortés and his men.

In fact, a number of writers have commented on the contrast in value placed on jade by the people of Mesoamerica and the views towards the stone by the Spanish conquerors. This difference can readily be seen in an account of gifts given by the Aztec ruler Montezuma and the Spanish leader Cortés:

Cortés and Montezuma were accustomed to play each day a native game which in many ways resembles chess… It was their further custom at the close of each day’s game to present each other with some gift. At the close of one day’s game the Aztec monarch presented Cortés with several large discs of gold and silver handsomely worked. Cortés was greatly pleased and so expressed himself. Montezuma smiled and said: The gift tomorrow shall be such that today’s gift will seem in value and preciousness, when compared with it, as no more than a single stone tile on the roadway… The royal treasurer of Montezuma brought in on a golden slaver the royal gift, four small carved jade beads. The bitter disappointment of Cortés was so great that he could scarcely conceal it” (Willard 1926: 146-147).

This is a theme that, to some extent, continues to this day in respect to the difference in views towards jadeite by Chinese and Westerners. There is an interesting sequel to the above story recounted by Vaillant (1965: 139-140) from the writings of Diaz del Castillo (from chapter 128 of his chronicles):

During the night when Cortés retreated from Mexico, the leader, after taking his share of treasure, turned the surplus over to his troops. Many, burdened down with gold, drowned ignominiously in the canals. Diaz, however, noted Indian usage and confined himself to four jades which he was able to exchange later and which, in his words, “served me well in healing my wounds and gathering me food.

Jadeite in Mesoamerica. The story of jadeite in Mesoamerica begins with the earliest civilization, that of the Olmec. Formative Olmec civilization was centered in the present western Mexican state of Guerrero, from where it spear eastward towards the Gulf of Mexico around the state of Veracruz. The earliest Olmec pieces of worked jadeite found so far (and the oldest found anywhere in the New World for that matter) are votive celts and axes dating from around 1200-1000 BC (Stone 1993: 142). Ward (1996: 29) comments that “the Olmec carved unsurpassed human figures. Theirs are the strongest representations of human faces ever carved in jade.” However, as Rands (1965: 579) notes, carved jadeite from “Preclassic horizons which can be related stylistically to this tradition are not numerous, although a number of carvings with Olmecoid features suggest the early importance of jade and jadelike stones.”

Jaideite constitutes only a small portion of the green stones worked by the Olmec. The center of green stone working among the Olmec was apparently in the vicinity of the Balsas River in Guerrero State. Archaeologists have discovered a workshop near the confluence of the Amacuzac and Balsas rivers with “fragments of jadeite, silex, jasper, onyx, and quartz, as well as obsidian and marine shells, dating to about 1000 B.C.” (Griffin 1993: 206). Luckert (1976: 94-95) argues that green stones such as serpentine and jadeite were closely related to the Olmec’s religious beliefs. He links the rise in the use of such green stones over darker stones like basalt to the evolution of what he refers to as the Olmec serpent cult: “The Serpent of the reform movement was green; and the Snake people of La Venta undertook no less a task than to transform their local portion of the Earth Serpent into a green one.” Moreover, he believes that “if ordinary green layers of serpentine rock represented the Green Serpent’s body, jades and better grades of serpentine signified the cores of the serpentine essence— the Green Serpent’s bones and teeth.”

The presence of worked jadeite in numerous Olmec archaeological sites has raised questions about the source(s) of the raw material. It is generally recognized that the worked jadeite found in the Gulf coast of Mexico came from somewhere else. In his discussion of Olmec trade, Coe (1968: 94, 103) refers to what he terms the “jade route” from Guerrero to the Gulf. Writing several decades ago, Adams (1977: 87) stated that Olmec jade was “probably obtained from the Balsas Valley in Guerrero (near the sacred caves of Oxtotitlan and Juxtlahuaca), from the Motagua River Valley in Guatemala…, and from other as yet unknown sources.” Reviewing what was known as of the early 1990s, Garber, et al (1993: 213) state:

Although serpentine sources are known for Guerrero [see Gay 1987: 33], jadeite sources apparently remain unknown. The late artisan William Spratling was rumored to have been exploiting a Guerrero jadeite source for his workshop in Taxco. If such a source exists, its location has remained a well-kept secret since his death decades ago. Thus, although Guerrero greenstone may have traveled through Middle Formative period exchange networks to Gulf Coast Olmec centers, the stone may have been serpentine rather than the jadeite Coe hypothesized.

Garber, et al, also review other reported sources (pages 213-214), but the only confirmed source of jadeite that is similar to that worked by the Olmec is from the Motagua River Valley, further to the south in Guatemala and within Maya territory (this site will be discussed in greater length later).

For the Maya the color green was associated with two important life-giving substances, water and maize, and the green stone was therefore viewed as having life-giving properties (Digby 1964: 10-11). Non-jadeite greenstone beads dating from around 1500 BC have been discovered within the Maya area on the Pacific coast of Chiapas (Garber, et al 1993: 211) and it is certainly possible that Maya were carving jadeite prior to the Olmec, but this has yet to be proven. The Maya occupied the southern states of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and a portion of Honduras. Blom (1934: 542) remarks that among the Maya:

Feathers were used for personal adornment, as was also jade and gold. The brilliant tail-feathers of the ‘trogan resplendens,’ the vivid green of jade, were rare and therefore commanded a high price. The maize-plant was green, the forest was green. All good as well as rare things were green, and therefore the Maya considered green a sacred color, attached special value to green things; just as the Spaniards, and we do to this day, express wealth, abundance and luxury in gold, and more frequently in gilt… Even small slivers of jade were polished and perforated for suspension, and large pieces were carved in the shape of human faces, animals, or… shaped like a hand.

Most of Mayan jadeite objects date from the Classic period (300-1000 AD). In the Maya lowlands of Yucatan during the late Classic Period many jadeite items have been found (see Proskouriakoff 1974), but much (if not all) of this appears to have been imported, probably from the Motagua River Valley. During the postclassic period, Rands (1965: 579) states that “Maya jadeworking seems to have suffered a severe decline.” Nevertheless, jade remained highly valued. Bishop Diego de Landa (1941), writing around the time of the Spanish conquest reported that jade beads were used by the Maya of Yucatan as money.

Archaeologists have been interested in discovering the source of Maya jadeite for a long time. Blom (1934: 542) wrote in the 1930s that “… the knowledge of the ancient jade-mines has been lost. There is an indication that these mines were already lost or exhausted in [ancient] Maya times.” The latter belief was based on the fact that when Blom was writing archaeologists had found that relatively large pieces of carved jade were found in the older burial sites, whereas in more recent sites they tended to find “re-worked pieces—i.e., larger objects that have been cut into smaller pieces and re-carved.” As will be discussed at length later, it is now believed that most, if not all of the jadeite worked by the ancient Maya came from the Motagua River Valley.

Peoples living further to the north of the Olmec and Maya, such as the Aztec and Mixtec, also valued jadeite and other green stones. Among these peoples, the colossal toad (chalchihuitl) was the symbol for precious stone or jade (Nicholson 1971: fig. 41, pg. 116). I have already mentioned how highly the Aztec valued jadeite. In discussing central Mexico around 600 BC, Adams (1977: 126) states the “jade was used in ear ornaments and other personal jewelry, although this was uncommon. Quite probably, the stone already had assumed its mystical and high status properties and was restricted to persons of high social rank.” Further south, in Oaxaca, Adams (1977: 213) mentions archaeologists finding “some carved jades” in the tombs of Monte Alban that “are relatively simple in technique and motif. The best were imports from the Maya highlands.”

Jadeite objects also have been found south of the Maya area. A relatively large number of objects have been found in Costa Rica in particular. As noted by Easby (1968: 9), “no region [in ancient Mesoamerica] produced a greater abundance of jade objects than Costa Rica, whose lapidaries were among the most skillful in pre-Columbian America.” Unfortunately, relatively little is known about the people who made these figures. Jadeite objects discovered in Costa Rica date primarily from between 500 BC and 700 AD (Stone 1993: 143). The source of the jadeite found in Costa Rica appears primarily to be the Motagua River Valley in Guatemala, although some may have come from local sources as well. Stone (1993: 141) notes that, while jade objects have been found in El Salvador, southern Honduras, and Nicaragua, they are very rare. Garber, et al (1993: 215-219) provide a brief overview of jadeite objects from Honduras (also see Hirth and Hirth 1993). They note (page 215) that jadeite carving in central and eastern Honduras “is part of a broader Honduran stone-working tradition that developed independently of the jadeite carving found among the Maya further to the west.” Jadeite appears in Honduras during the Formative Period (700 BC to 400 AD) and “the use of jadeite in public and ritual offerings reached its peak during the first part of the Classic period” (i.e., shortly after 400 AD). Its use in Honduras appears to decline later during the Classic period (which lasted until about 1000 AD) and, while some jadeite objects have been found dating from the postclassic period, they are relatively rare.

Jadeite production in Mesoamerica came to a virtual halt with the coming of the Spanish in the early sixteenth century. The Mesoamerican jadeite industry was revived in 1974 with the founding of Jades, S.A., in Antigua, Guatemala, which was established following the discovery of jadeite deposits in the Motagua River Valley (see www.jades.centroamerica).

Jadeite in China and Burma. Objects made of minerals classified generally as jade have been used in China for a very long time.[2] Durant (1954: 737) notes that “Jade is as old as Chinese history, for it is found in the most ancient graves.” Jade was a symbol for the official state worship of the Heaven, Earth, and the Four Quarters. However, only a very small percentage of this jade was jadeite. In the past, the Chinese used the term for jade in general and only occasionally bothered to distinguish between chên yu, which was used for nephrite, and fei-ts’ui, which was used for jadeite. While much is made in writing about the Chinese reverence for jade, until recently this reverence was primarily for objects made of nephrite and generally not jadeite.

Initially the primary source for ancient jade by the Chinese was the K’un Lun Mountains of southeastern Turkestan and the adjacent Karakash or Black Jade River and Yurungash or White Jade River in the vicinity of the oasis of Khotan (Dohrenwend 1971: 10). Marco Polo is said to have passed through this area in 1472 and to have seen what he thought was jasper and chalcedony, but what was later considered to be jade, being collected for export to China (Palmer 1967: 11; Wills 1972: 19). Most, if not all, of what was mined at this site was nephrite. Some authors assert that there was at least some jadeite obtained by the Chinese from these sources. Thus, Norman Lewis (1952: 210) recounts: “In the original quarries in Turkestan a certain small amount of green jadeite was also found. By virtue of its rarity this green stone became practically priceless.” Others, however, are skeptical. Dohrenwend (1971: 11), for instance, states categorically that “there is no evidence for jadeite in China in such early times, nor was the colder, harder stone ever loved there in the way that nephrite was.” Likewise, Whitlock and Ehrmann (1949: 21) state that “for twenty centuries… nephrite was the only jade known to Chinese lapidaries” and Wills (1972: 21) says that “at present there is no evidence that it [jadeite] was known or used in China prior to the mid-eighteenth century.”

Hansford (1968: 28) agrees that jadeite does not appear to have been imported to China until the eighteenth century, when it began to be brought to China from Burma via Yunnan. Significantly, he notes that “a contemporary Chinese writer regarded it as having merely ‘usurped the name of yü’, but the brilliant emerald-green colour of some of the finer specimens soon earned it a place in public esteem as high as that of nephrite.” Hansford adds (1968: 28-29) that “an old name, jei-ts’ui, ‘plummage of the kingfisher’, which had been applied at least as early as the eleventh century to certain fine green nephrites but had passed out of currency, was revived to distinguish the new material. This is the name by which it is still known throughout China. The belief that Burmese jadeite was carved in China in much earlier times appears to rest on a confusion of the two uses of the term jei-ts’ui” (this point is discussed by Hansford earlier in a 1948 article). He supports this argument for the absence of jadeite prior to the eighteenth century by drawing attention to use of nephrite rather than jadeite in the crown of the empress Wan-li, who was buried in 1620. Only later was jadeite used in such royal regalia, when it largely supplanted nephrite.

A variety of sources provide illustrations of examples of Chinese jadeite. Boda (1991: 171-172) discusses and illustrates a jadeite box from the Qing court in the shape of a fish. He describes the piece in one place as “white mingled with blue in colour” and elsewhere as having a “green-white tone”, but from the photograph the piece appears to be a light lavender. Bernstein ( illustrates and describes a pair of crouching boys carved of jadeite and used as pillows (Ref. #2737). The pieces are said to date from 1780-1820. He mentions a similar pair os jadeite pillows featured in a Sotheby’s auction (2 December 1976, lot 726) in Hong Kong and again in a Christie’s auction (2 October 1991) in Hong Kong. According to Bartholomew (1999: 42), “the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco holds one of the world’s most comprehensive and best collections of Chinese jades.”[3] The collection is comprised largely of pieces collected by Avery Brundage (1887-1975). While most of the pieces in the colection are made of nephrite, a few are made of jadeite. The relative lack of jadeite pieces in the collection would appear to reflect the fact that “Mr Brundage was not interested in personal adornment in jades” (1999: 47), which is the most common use of jadeite. Bartholomew illustrates a few of the jadeite pieces in her article. These include a cabbage vase dating from around 1900 (appearing on the cover of the magazine) and a box with melon, vegetable, and insects also dating from around 1900 (figure 14, page 48). The later is made of jadeite featuring three colors and is said to be a fine example of “the qiaose or ‘clever use of colours’ tradition” (1999: 47).

It is common in the literature to date the earliest discovery of jadeite in Burma (in the Mogaung area in the Myitkyina district) to the thirteenth century. Traditions say that these deposits were discovered by accident by a trader from Yunnan. According to the story, the trader used a piece of stone to balance a load on his mule. The stone turned out to be jadeite. This is probably nothing more than an apocryphal story, however. Hansford (1950: 45-46) casts doubt on the authenticity of story and Wills (1972: 22) refers to it as a legend with no supporting evidence. The source of this fanciful story was a Mr. Warry of the Chinese Consular Service, who accompanied a British military expedition to the mining area in 1888, two years after the British annexation of Upper Burma. Warry presented the story after his visit in a report on the jadeite mining industry, which was published subsequently by Hertz in 1912 in the Burma Gazetteer: Myitkyina District and again by Scott in his influential Burma: A Handbook of Practical Information (1921: 243). Despite the likely falsehood of the tale, it has continued to be repeated in the literature on jadeite in Burma (see Fraser-Lu 1994: 173, 185; Hughes, Galibert, et al 2000: 4-5).

Mr. Warry was on somewhat firmer ground when he reported that the modern trade in jadeite between Burma and China began in 1784, during the reign of the emperor Ch’ien-lung (1736 to 1796), following the ending of hostilities between the two countries. Hansford (1968: 45-46) states that after a series of unsuccessful attempts by the Chinese to subdue Burma, they were driven out in 1769. With the ending of hostilities, trade between the two countries was re-established. Warry dates the beginning of trade in jadeite to 1784, when a large number of Chinese came to Burma in search of jade. Many of those who came to search for jade died, either from malaria or as a result of hostile encounters with local groups such as the Jingpho. In addition, the route back to China from Mogaung was dangerous because of the difficult terrain and presence of bandits. In his account of jadeite mining in Burma (quoted in Hertz 1912), Warry makes the following comment regarding the loss of life among the Chinese: “In the Chinese temple at Amarapura is a long list containing the names of upwards of 6,000 Chinese traders deceased in Burma since the beginning of the present century to whom funeral rites are yearly paid. The large majority of these men are known to have lost their lives in the search for jade… Could the number of smaller traders and adventurers who perished in the same enterprise be ascertained, the list would be swelled to many times its present size.” Warry discusses the early mine sites exploited in northern Burma, mentioning in particular the “Hsimu quarries” in the Uru river valley which “were first discovered in 1790″ and “yielded a very brilliant jade.”

Hughes, Galibert, et al (2000: 5) associate the acceptance of Burmese jadeite with the emperor Qianlong (also spelled Ch’ien-lung). During his reign, however, the trade in jadeite was small and it seems that the stones when brought to China at this time received only a lukewarm reception. It would seem that it took almost a century for Burmese jadeite to achieve the status of a valuable and desired stone. Field (2000: 3) notes that “it was probably due to the old empress dowager Tz’u Hsi [also spelled Wu Cixi, who in effect ruled China from 1861-1908], who loved its bright, vivid colors, that it finally reached pre-eminence as the Imperial Stone, or most precious thing, in China.” In fact, prior to Wu Cixi’s reign relatively few objects were fashioned from Burmese jadeite. Ward (1996: 24) writes that

as Burma’s jadeite supplies increased in the 1800s, carvings appeared. Soon jadeite animals, objects, and gems outshone nephrite. For the past two hundred years (and disregarding the 5,000 years that preceded them) jadeite has been the preeminent stone and gem within China. It seems that no one objected to the culture’s central substance being supplanted by a totally different material. Perhaps calling both eased the transition.

Thus, while jade in general may have a long history in China, the history of jadeite in China should be seen as much more recent— as essentially modern.

As for the Burmese themselves, Faser-Lu (1994: 174) comments that “apart from levying duties, the Kon-baung kings [the ruling dynasty in Burma at the time] took little interest in the development of jade mining.” Warry’s 1888 account (quoted in Hertz 1912) of the jadeite industry discusses the system of taxation:

In 1806 a Burmese Collectorate was established at the site of what is now the town of Mogaung… Mogaung now became the headquarters of the jade trade in Burma… The Burmese Collector imposed no tax upon the stone until it was ready to leave Mogaung, when he levied an ad valorem duty of 33 per cent… The value of jade was determined for purposes of taxation by an official appraiser. This officer, however, by private arrangement with the traders and the Collector, estimated all stone about one-third of its real value.

In fact, the Burmese kings did try to become more involved. Clearly attracted by the prospect of gaining greater revenue from the trade, the Burmese king sought to establish a monopoly over commerce in jadeite in 1866. The Jingpho responded by cutting the supply to a trickle of poor quality material and the following year the Burmese king was forced to resume the original practice of simply levying a tax. In general, throughout this period the actual mining of jadeite was in the hands of the local Jingpho. Warry comments that :

The Kachins [Jingpho] have always claimed the exclusive right of digging at the mines. They have, however, from time to time allowed Shans to assist them, and in the early days Chinese were permitted to work certain quarries temporarily abandoned by the Kachins. The Chinese, however, found the labour severe and the results unsatisfactory, and they have now for many years contented themselves with buying stone brought to the surface by Kachins.

As Warry notes, however, the Chinese traders did not act alone when purchasing jadeite from the Jingpho: “An expert, or middleman, is nearly always employed to settle the price. These middlemen, who are without exception Burmese or Burmese-Shans, have from early times been indispensable to the transaction of business at the mines.”

The modern history of jadeite mining in Burma begins in the nineteenth century, around the same time that the mineral was becoming popular in China, and was associated primarily with a site known as Tawmaw. Jadeite may have been mined earlier, however. Jade beads have been found that are associated with the Pyu civilization of Burma (roughly 200 BC to 500 AD) as far north as the Pyu city-state of Hanlin that is located near the present town of Shwebo. These are generally assumed to be nephrite or some related stone, but further research is needed. The mining was largely carried out by local Jingpho (as well as by some Shan) and the trade by Chinese. Warry, states in his 1888 account (quoted in Hertz 1912) that:

Comparatively few Chinese actually went up to the mines; the Kachins themselves brought down most of the stone to a sand bank opposite Mogaung, where a large bazaar was held during the season… As for the mines themselves, “The Kachins [were] regarded as the absolute owners of all the stone produced in their country. This ownership was never directly called in question by the King of Burma.

Chhibber (1934: 43) provides a story that he collected from local informants about the modern origins of mining in this area: “about sixty years ago a hunter named Ninjar of Sanhka reached the site of Tawmaw while hunting, and started cooking rice on a range of stones. One of the stones cracked, and proved to be valuable jadeite.” He records another story collected by a British administrator in 1907 that associates the discovery with a Jingpho hunter who was tracking a wounded elephant. After killing the elephant, he tried to knock some flesh from its tusks on a rock. One of the tusks cracked the rock, which turned out to contain jadeite.

Whatever actually happened, by the early nineteenth century the local Jingpho and others were mining for jadeite in the vicinity of Tawmaw. Hansford (1968: 46) writes that “the stone was at first extracted in the form of pebbles and boulders… from the detritus in the valleys of the Uru River and its tributaries. Warry, in his 1888 account (quoted in Hertz 1912), discusses what came to be generally referred to as the ‘old mines’ located adjacent to the Uru River:

Small quantities of jade have at one time or another been discovered over nearly the whole of this tract, but the stone occurs in greatest abundance at places near to the right bank of the Uru and considerable quantities have been found in the bed of that stream. The names of the quarries most celebrated in times past for the excellence of their output are Hsimu [now Sate Mu], Masa, Mopang and Tamukan [located near Haungpa]. All these places appear to be within the boundaries given above and to lie at no great distance from one another. They have all ceased to yield jade except in minute quantities, and they are now termed the ‘old mines,’ Sanka being the latest name added to this list.

Sanka… was reached after a march of some seventy miles from Mogaung in a direction almost exactly north-west… Sanka is situated on the right bank of the Uru just opposite its junction with the Nansant stream. Some twenty years ago Sanka was celebrated for its output of fine jade, but the supply has long been exhausted, and the place is now almost deserted. I spent the greater part of a day in visiting the excavations of former years. Thousands of pits had been dug along the sides of the low hills and in the small intervening valleys. The diameter of the pits rarely exceeded ten or twelve feet at the mouth, and the average depth was about twelve feet… Sanka is the last of the ‘old mines’.

The earliest account of the Burmese jadeite mines in Western sources that is mentioned by Bleeck (1908: 254) was written in 1836 by Captain Hannay, who obtained specimens of jadeite from Mogaung during his visit to the Assam frontier (Hannay 1837, and see Hannay 1857). Hannay, however, did not visit the actual mines. Dr. William Griffith (1847: 132) was the first Westerner to visit the nearby mining area. Even at that early date, he noticed that “the surface of the valley apparently at one time consisted of low rounded hillocks; it is now much broken, and choked up with the earth and stones that have been thrown up by excavating.” He reported that the larger jadeite boulders were broken apart by fire. After leaving the mining area a member of his party counted a large number of people transporting jadeite rocks, the majority of them being Chinese Shan.

More substantial jadeite mining did not commence until 1881 (Hansford 1968: 46). These mines came to be referred to as the ‘new mines’. Warry (1888, quoted in Hertz 1912) has this to say about them:

The ‘new mines’ have produced immense quantities of stone, but none which approaches in quality that yielded by the quarries of former years. It will be convenient here to indicate briefly by points of difference between the old stone and the new. The value of jade is determined mainly by the colour, which should be a particular shade of dark green. The colour however, is by no means everything; semi-transparency, brilliancy, and hardness are also essential. Stone which satisfies these four conditions is very rare. The last three qualities were possessed to perfection by a large proportion of the old stone, but the dark-green colour was rare and often absent altogether. The new stone, on the other hand, possess abundant colour, but is defective in the other three respects, being as a rule opaque, dull and brittle in composition. These natural defects are aggravated by the injurious methods employed in quarrying the new stone. A peculiarity which gave high value to all stone found at the old mines was that [it] occurred in the form of moderate size round lumps, having often the appearance of water-worn boulders, and small enough to be detached and carried away without undergoing any rough process of cleavages on the spot. At the new mines the stone occurs in immense blocks which cannot be quarried out by any tools possessed by the Kachins [Jingpho], but have to be broken up by the application of heat, a process which, without doubt, tends to make the stone more brittle and chalk-like.

These defects were not fully realized the first year that the new mines were opened. The output of stone was large and the competition keen. Hitherto only men of some capital had been able to engage regularly in the trade. It had been impossible to do more than guess at the value of any old stone, for each piece was complete in itself and was usually protected by a thick outer capsule which effectually concealed the colour within. All pieces therefore fetched a high price, as any piece might on cutting prove to be of immense value. But with the opening of the new mines, stone could not be bought in fragments of any shape and size, and it was possible by the processes of washing and holding in a strong light to determine with comparative exactitude the amount and nature of the colour. The trade was thus brought within the means of a large number of men who had not before been in a position to take part in it. There was accordingly a rush for the new mines in 1881, and the speculation in jade reached a height not attained before. Large fortunes were made by those who had the good luck to dispose of their stone before its defects were discovered. In the second year there was a heavy fall in prices, which involved the ruin of more than one of the largest jade merchants.

The first geologist to see the jadeite mines was F. Noetling, who visited the Tawmaw area in 1892 (Noetling 1893; also see Bauer 1895). Noetling’s work for a time provided the primary published source of information on the mining area. Noetling noted, however, that his survey was incomplete due to the unsettled state of the country at the time and the difficult terrain. A subsequent visit was made by A.W.G. Bleeck in 1907 (Bleeck 1908) and he provided a more detailed account of the mining industry in the region. According to Bleeck (1908: 255), jadeite was found in three localities at the time of his visit: “at Tawmaw, at Hwéka, and at Mamoa,” with Tawmaw being by far the most important site. He notes (page 256) that “these mines are only worked about three months in the year form the beginning of March till the end of May; during the rains malaria stops all work” (although because the quarries north of Hweka were located at a higher elevation it was possible to commence mining a little earlier there). Hertz (1912) provides a description of the jadeite mines a short time later and lists seven mine sites in operation: Tawmaw, Ngobin, Mamon, Sabyi, Papyen, Sabwi, and Pakhan. Tawmaw is still described as “the most important of the mines,” with “over fifty claims being worked” by local Jingpho. The other sites are much smaller in scale. He notes that the mining operation at Mamon is in the hands of Shan, unlike most other mines.

The initial reports by Noetling and Bleeck were superseded in the 1930s by the account of Chhibber (1934), which remains the most comprehensive published work on the area to date. Chhibber (1934: 47) reports that during the first two decades of the twentieth century the output of the Tawmaw mines went into decline: “chiefly on account of the increasing depth of the mines” and the inability of the Jinhpho to cope with this using their traditional methods. Elsewhere, Chhibber describes numerous other sites being mined, including some by more modern techniques (such as Kadon Dwin site mined by the Burchin Syndicate).

Jadeite mining in Burma was disrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War and the Japanese occupation of Burma. Travel writer Norman Lewis visited the jadeite mining area in 1951 (Lewis 1952: 211-212). At the time jadeite mining was again monopolized by the local Jingpho and all of what they found was exported to China. With the communist takeover in China, Lewis (1954: 212) predicted that “it seems likely that the jade mania may have come to an abrupt end. Production at Mogaung was entirely for the Chinese market, the stone being otherwise valueless. It is difficult to imagine that China’s present rulers [the communists] would sanction this type of import.” Even before then, following the 1911 revolution, there had been a decline in the jadeite market. While there were signs of recovery during the inter-war years, Communist rule in China and continued instability in northern Burma put a damper on production and demand for jadeite. I will discuss more recent developments towards the end of the paper.

3. Properties and Identification of Jadeite

Jadeite is a silicate belonging to this group’s inosilicate subdivision. Jadeite belongs to the pyroxene group of minerals within this subdivision, along with about two dozen other minerals (see Morimoto, Fabries, et al 1988; Hauff 1993: 85). The latter include aegirine, diopside, enstatite, and spodumene (hiddenite and kunzite). Curtiss (1993: 75) remarks that “the pyroxenes are one of the most complicated mineral groups known.” Jadeite’s chemical composition includes sodium, aluminum, and silicon. Jadeite’s ideal composition is NaAl(Si203)2. It can be described as “a sodium-rich aluminous pyroxene” (www.geo.utexas, pg. 1). Jadeitic pyroxene usually is not pure (pure jadeite being indicated as Jd100) and in such a state is found in only a few places in the world (discussed below). It is more typical for it to contain other pyroxenes mixed in solid solution such as diopside (CaMgSi2O6), kosmochlor (NaCrSi2O6), hedenbergite (CaFe2+Si2O6), and aegirine (NaFe3+Si2O6). Jadeitic pyroxene usually constitutes at least 90% to 95% of the rock that it is found in. The other minerals found in jadeite include sodic amphibole (with varying compositions: e.g., eckermannite, glaucophane, richterite, and edenite), albite, analcime, tremolite, (ilmeno-) rutile, clinochlore, banalsite, and chromite (see Harlow and Olds 1987; Htein and Naing 1994, and 1995). Ou Yang (1993) notes that jadeite may be partly replaced by fibrous tremolite or actinolite in the course of late-stage metasomatism. Such polymineralic jadeite is polychromatic and commonly is white with gray-green to blackish green specks or streaks. It is rare for this form of jadeite to be green and to exhibit relatively even color distribution. Jadeite commonly occurs with serpentine, nepheline, calcite, quartz, aragonite, glaucuphane, and vesuvianite. Jadeite’s crystal system is monoclinic. It is composed of fine-grained, fibrous, highly inter-grown, interlocking crystals. Though jadeite is not very hard (measuring 6.5 to 7 on the Moh’s scale), it is one of the toughest gem minerals known because of the inter-grown nature of the individual crystals. When fractured it is splintery and brittle. Jadeite ranges in appearance from opaque to translucent transparency and its luster from “greasy to pearly” (Hall 1994: 124).

Colors of Jadeite. The mineral jadeite is allochromatic and, therefore, transparent and colorless in its pure form. Even such “pure” jadeite, however, usually appears to be white as a result of the scattering of light by fractures, openings on grain boundaries, and tiny aqueous fluid inclusions. In addition to white, jadeite comes in a variety of colors. The colors of jadeite found in Burma include a variety of shades of green ranging from very pale green to emerald-green, pale blue, pale violet or lavender, yellow, orange, burnt-sienna red, gray, and brown. Chhibber (1934: 67) provides an early description of the colors found in jadeite:

Jadeite varies from pure white to various shades of green. Not infrequently green spots or streaks are observed in the white varieties. Other less common tints are amethystine, light-blue, bright-red, brownish and black. The bright-red and brownish tints are observed in a thin outer zone of jadeite boulders embedded in red earth, and the colour is due to the dissemination of ferruginous matter by percolating water. About one-third of an inch from the surface the red colour entirely disappears. This sections of red jadeite are seen to be stained red and yellow with hematite and limonite respectively.

Guatemalan jadeite has been found in a variety of shades of green (including emerald-green blue-green) as well as lavender, mottled white and blue, light yellow, pink, and black. There is also what is referred to as “rainbow jadeite”, which features several colors.

The colors in jadeite are caused by a couple of different factors. In a few instances colors are caused by mineral staining on grain boundaries. These include red-brown to orange-brown caused by hydrous iron oxides, some dark green streaks caused an iron compound, and gray or black caused by graphite staining. Most colors of jadeite, however, are due to substitutions of transition metal ions for the fundamental Al3+ and minor Mg2+ (from diopside content) in jadeitic pyroxene and the resultant presence of residues called chromophores (see Harder 1995). The emerald-green color of “Imperial Jade” or “gem jade” is due to the presence of a small amount of chromium (Cr3+). Hughes, Galibert, et al (2000: 6-7) note that “only a very small percentage of this minor element is required to induce the vivid color.” Duller green colors as well as blue-green, bluish black, and blue-black jadeite are related to the presence of iron (either Fe2+ or Fe3+ or a mixture of the two). The darkest colors contain a relatively high percentage of iron oxide and closely resemble a pyroxene called omphacite. The term “leek green” is commonly applied to aggregates of jadeite and sodic amphiboles. According to Rossman (1974) and Ponahlo (1999), the lavender color is attributed to a Fe2+—O—Fe3+ intervalence charge transfer in nearly pure jadeite. The mauve color in jadeite is related to the presence of manganese.

The above discussion is based largely on studies of Burmese jadeite. Curtiss (1993: 77) provides an analysis of some of the colors found in Mesoamerican jadeite (from Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Costa Rica) based on spectroscopic examination:

The emerald green color is caused by the intense absorption of blue and red light by Cr3+ contained in a small component of ureyite in a solid solution with jadeite. Some additional absorption of blue light is from Fe3+… The pale green color is caused by absorption of red light by a small amount of Fe3+ contained as an impurity in the M1 and M2 crystallographic sites of the jadeite. This absorption feature is much broader than the one produced by Cr3+; therefore, the color produced is much more subdued. The absorption of blue light is from the presence of Fe3+… The bluish green color is caused by the absence of Fe3+…

In a table on the same page Curtiss associates the following colors with the presence of the certain elements: pink with manganese2+, emerald green with chromium3+, pale green with iron2+, and brown and red with iron3+.

Burmese Jadeite. Lacroix (1930) provides perhaps the earliest detailed analysis of the composition of Burmese jadeite. Thus, he describes two stones from Tawmaw as follows. The first stone is described as jadeitic-albitite. Its composition is: 59.42% SiO2, 10.81% Al2O3, 10.69% MgO, 8.01% Na2O, 4.3% CaO, and small proportions of FeO, Fe2O3, H2O, K2O, TiO2, and MnO. The second stone is described as jadeite and amphibolite-bearing albitite. Its composition is: 66.3% SiO2, 19.94% Al2O3, 11.25% Na2O, and very small proportions of CaO, MgO, FeO, Fe2O3, H2O, K2O, and MnO. Three other stones (two from Tawmaw and one from the Kadon mine) discussed by Lacroix are categorized as amphibolites (one as amphibolite bearing chrome-jadeite). Chhibber (1934: 70), however, comments that “they are not altogether happily named” and “they are not amphibolites in the commonly accepted sense.” He views them as being of “hybrid origin”. The so-called amphibolite from the Kadon mine is 56.18% SiO2, 16.97% MgO, 9.18% Na2O, and 7.37% Al2O3, with smaller proportions of Fe2O3, FeO, MnO, CaO, K2O, and H2O. The second “amphibolite” contains the same elements, but in slightly different proportions: 55.82% SiO2, 21.2% MgO, 9.12% Na2O, and only 2.56% Al2O3, with somewhat larger proportions of Fe2O3 and H2O, and roughly similar proportions of the other elements. The stone described as an “amphibolite bearing chrome jadeite has the following composition: 57.52% SiO2, 13.37% MgO, 9.57% Al2O3, 8.83% Na2O, 4.5% FeO, and smaller proportions of the other elements found in the first two stones.

There have been a handful of subsequent studies of the chemical compositions of Burmese jadeite specimens. One of the more recent and most comprehensive studies is that by Htein and Naing (1994). The specimens in their sample come from the mining areas of Hpakan, Lonkin, Tawmaw, Nantmaw, Whay Khar Maw, Haungpa, and Khamti and include a wide range of colors: “from white through grey to almost black, shades of green, dark green, emerald green, lavender, yellowish through brown to reddish-brown, bluish and greyish blue-green” (page 270). Portions of the samples were subjected to X-ray diffraction analysis to determine their mineral composition. The composition of monomineralic (pure jadeite) specimens include: jadeite, jadeite ± rutile/ilmenorutile, and jadeite ± chromite/magnesiochromite ± rutile. The composition of polymineralic (impure jadeite) specimens include: jadeite + edenite + richterite ± chromite, jadeite + kosmochlor ± ilmenorutile, jadeite + enstatite + tremolite, and jadeite + tremolite + edenite + richterite + kosmochlor ± ilmenorutile. About two-thirds of the twenty-five specimens are pure jadeite and the remaining one-third impure jadeite. Next, fifteen specimens were subject to wavelength dispersive examination by an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer (page 271). The values for SiO2 range from 59.80 to 56.14, for Al2O3 from 24.18 to 15.34, and for Na2O from 15.52 to 11.65 (with one specimen containing only 5.66%). Other oxides include: Cr2O3 (1.16 to 0.03), Fe2O3 (2.34 to 0.93), MgO (one with 9.88, otherwise from 3.17 to 0.01), CaO (one with 10.84, otherwise from 5.40 to 0.33), and K2O (all <0.01). Some of the greatest variation was found in four of the specimens that were pyroxene-amphibole jades. Among the trace elements found by the X-ray fluorescence tests were Ti, Sr, Zr, Nb, Ni, and Zn (page 274). By way of conclusion, the authors note that “the present study demonstrates that jade of Myanmar may include a much wider range in mineral constituents and chemical composition than was previously recognized” (page 274).

Mesoamerican Jadeite. In his famous study of the Maya, archaeologist Sylvanus Morley (1956: 414) wrote:

a study of Middle American jades by mineralogists of the Carnegie Institution of Washington [see Washington 1922] has shown that American jades are true jadeites, though their chemical composition differs from that of Chinese jadeite. The variation is not sufficient to place them outside the true jadeite group, but it makes them differ somewhat in appearance from Chinese jades. American jade is not so translucent as Chinese [i.e., Burmese] jade; it varies from dark green to light blue-green, through all shades of gray and into white; it is more mottled than Chinese jade.

More recently, Anna Miller (2001: 29) has noted that “although some individual pieces of Guatemalan jadeite cannot be separated from their Burmese counterparts (particularly after they are worked into jewelry), the majority of materials have distinct color and often textural differences.

In the 1950s, the Smithsonian Institution’s curator of geology, William Foshag, recognized (1957: 23) that Mesoamerican artifacts generically referred to as jade could be divided into four main mineralogical forms: 1) jadeite, 2) diopside-jadeite (“a mineral species of the pyroxene group of minerals, intermediate between jadeite and diopside, essentially a silicate of sodium, calcium, magnesium, and aluminum”), 3) chloromelanite (“a mineral species of the pyroxene group of minerals, intermediate between jadeite and acmite, or jadeite, acmite, and diopside, essentially a silicate of sodium, calcium, magnesium, iron, and aluminum”), and 4) nephrite. In comparing jade artifacts from various locales around the Maya area, Foshag identified seven forms: 1) the so-called “blue” jadeite associated with the Olmec, 2) the pale greenish jadeite from the Quiche region, 3) the emerald-green to apple-green jadeite found in many Guatemalan sites, 4) a gray-green jadeite frequently used for making celts (edged implements), 5) dark green chloromelanite used for making a variety of utilitarian objects, and two other types that seem to represent gradations between other types. Bishop, Rands, and Zelst (1985) have also categorized Mesoamerican jadeites in this fashion. Harlow (1993: 27) summarizes these two systems of classification and compares them to rocks found in Guatemala (see the table at the top of the following page).

The jadeite pebble found in central Mexico mentioned above has a composition of 87% jadeite, 11% diopside, and 2% acmite (Cook de Leonard 1971: 212). Another source (Borhegyi 1971: 4) also mentions Mayan ornaments from highland Guatemala being made of albite.

Bishop Type Foshag Type Guatemalan Type

Motagaua Light Types III & VI Jadeitite

Motagua Dark Type V Omphacite rock

Chrome Green – Kosmochloric omphacite rock

Chichén Green Type I? Kosmochloric jadeitite

Maya Green Type I Kosmochloric jadeitite

Costa Rican Light? Type II (Olmec Blue) Jadeitite (alightly altered)

Costa Rican Dark Type VII Omphacite rock (Motagua-II)

to black jade

Albite Light Albite Albitite 1

Albite Dark Albite Albitite 1

- Type IV Altered jadeitite

- – Albitite 2

Table 3.1: Systems of Classification of Guatemalan Jade

(after Harlow 1993: 27)

Easby (1968: 15) discusses the properties of the jadeite found in Costa Rica. She compares it to that employed by the Olmec of the Gulf coast of Mexico. The Costa Rican jadeite is described as being “amorphous rather than crystalline” with an extraordinary translucence.” In terms of color, she describes the colors as ranging from “bluish to sea-green hues like those of a cresting wave.” The stones often have light cloudy spots and “sometimes there are flecks or veins of the deep intense emerald green that the Chinese call… imperial or jewel jade.” She also mentions (1968: 16) “an almost opaque off-white jade, finely speckled and tending toward buff, gray, or green” and states that “X-ray diffraction patterns made for two examples showed them to be composed mainly of albite, with admixture of quartz and jadeite.”

A relatively comprehensive study of the composition of Mesoamerican jadeite and other “green” stones is provided by Bishop, Sayre, and Mishara (1993), who utilized INAA to study the stones (they describe their sampling techniques on pages 35-37). Their sample included 155 stones collected in the vicinity of the Motagua River valley. Archaeological specimens tested are from several sites in central and northern Belize, Chichén Itzá in Yucatan, Copán and El Cajón in Honduras, and 130 pieces are from numerous localities in Costa Rica. They divide the jade samples into seven groups: 1) Motagua Light, light green color; 2) Motagua Dark, green-black color (basically omphacite); 3) Maya Green, emerald green; 4) Costa Rican Light; 5) Costa Rican Dark; 6) Chichén Green (defined in 1985 as different from jadeite found in the Motagua River Valley, but later similar jade was found in the Motagua River Valley); and 7) Miscellaneous.

They turn first to their findings related to the first three categories. The first two of these are “easily differentiated chemically from the group of samples designated Maya Green” which have “significantly higher chromium values” (page 42). The authors also point to significant differences in the cobalt content in the three categories of stone. Overall they characterize the stones in these categories as follows (page 43):

The Motagua Light samples can be characterized as consisting of major abundances of jadeite and albite, with occurrences of prargonite and analsite… The Motagua Dark specimens contain less abundant jadeite, major abundances of omphacite, and variable amounts of analcite. In contrast, the analyzed Maya Green samples possess abundant jadeite, trace omphacite, and relatively low abundances of albite, muscovite, and analcite.

Data are provided about the chemical composition of a number of the stones belonging to these three categories (page 45). A sample of eight Motagua Light stones have the following characteristics: 58.91% Si02, 24.6% Al2O3, 12% Na2O, 1.97% CaO, 1.29% MgO, 1.01% FeO, and traces of Cr2O3, K2O, and MnO. A sample of seven Maya Green stones have the following characteristics: 57.5% Si02, 20.0% Al2O3, 10.7% Na2O, 4.78% CaO, 3.84% MgO, 1.20% FeO, 0.32% Cr2O3, and traces of K2O and MnO. A sample of five Motagua Dark Omphacite stones have the following characteristics: 53.8% Si02, 14.4% Al2O3, 6.2% Na2O, 10.36% CaO, 7.46% MgO, 2.32% FeO, 0.10% Cr2O3, and traces of K2O and MnO.

On the basis of electron beam microprobe analysis the authors plot the relative jadeite composition in the various samples (see fig. 2.3, page 49). Among the findings is that: “The Costa Rican Light specimens all lie near the pure jadeite corner, and the Maya Green are close to the jadeite-omphacite boundary.” Chichén Green falls in between. Later in their chapter (page 58), the authors discuss the distinctiveness of the Costa Rican samples, which have a tendency towards a bluish-green color (like the so-called Olmec pieces), from those found elsewhere. Their distinctiveness mineralogically is related to “the virtual absence of mica and the low albite content in the Costa Rican specimens.”

Tests. Let us now turn to some of the tests that can be used to identify jadeite. Hobbs (1982) lists several tests: visual examination, refractive index readings, specific gravity determination, spectroscopic analysis, hardness tests, and X-ray diffraction. To this could be added the use of a Chelsea filter. In regard to the latter, it is interesting to note that while green jadeite’s color is derived from the presence of chromium, it “does not show red under the Chelsea filter, nor does it do so under either LW or SW UV light” (Field 2000: 3). Under long-wave ultra-violet light “the paler coloured green and the yellow, mauve and white jadeite shows a whitish glow of low intensity, the darker coloured jadeite being unresponsive.” Among the tests discussed by Hobbs, we will review all except for hardness tests since such tests are rarely used for jadeite. Hobbs (1982: 18) indicates that such tests are not very useful for jadeite and “would only help separate materials that have a hardness value that is significantly lower than jade, such as serpentine, calcite, and talc.”

Turning first to visual examination, Hobbs (1982: 6-7) remarks:

Visual examination of a jade-appearing material may yield significant identifying clues such as texture, surface luster, and fracture, as well as characteristic inclusions, evidence of dye, the presence of phenomena, and possibly other distinguishing characteristics. All these visual characteristics contribute to the typical appearance of a gemstone, thus allowing the gemologist with a well-trained eye to limit the range of possibilities quickly after an initial examination of the material. But even experts support the suppositions they make after a visual examination with standard gemological tests.

Among the characteristics of jadeite to note here concern its texture, surface luster, and fracture surface. In terms of its texture, it should be noted that jadeite is a very tough material. This is related to its internal structure. Differences in the structure of jadeite and nephrite, for example, can be seen under magnification: jadeite crystals appear as separate entities, while the crystals of nephrite appear to be woven together. This manifests itself visually, as noted by Hobbs (1982: 9), with jadeite looking granular and nephrite fibrous. Both jadeite and nephrite exhibit a slightly greasy luster, but nephrite tends to be greasier in its appearance than jadeite. Turning to the fracture surface of jadeite, Hobbs (1982: 10) describes jadeite and nephrite as exhibiting a “splintery fracture, which looks like the surface of a broken piece of wood.” This characteristic, however, is more common with nephrite than jadeite. Unfortunately, several jadeite simulants also show similar characteristics. By and large, the value of visual examination is relatively limited in positively identifying jadeite. Hobbs (1982: 13) uses such terms as providing “valuable indications” and “suppositions” and concludes that these ned to be confirmed through gemological tests. We will look at the differences in appearance between jadeite and its simulants further in the section of simulants.

Jadeite’s refractive index is about 1.66. Hall (1994: 124) gives it as 1.66-1.68, while Schumann (1997: 154) give it as 1.652-1.688. Field (2000: 3) reports that the mean refractive index of jadeite is 1.66 (alpha 1.654; gamma 1.667)” and notes that “this mean can be determined quite readily by the distant vision method.” Read (1999: 281) states that “only [a] single vague shadow edge [is] visible on [the] refractometer at 1.66 due to [the] random orientation of crystal fibres.” Hobbs (1982: 13) states that “the refractometer is one of the most helpful instruments in separating jadeite from its simulants.” This is because almost all of these simulants have refractive indices that are significantly different than jadeite’s. The problem is that jadeite and most of its simulants are usually cut with a round surface in such a way that their shapes make it difficult to obtain readings with a refractometer. This necessitates using the “spot technique” or “distant vision method.” Hobbs (1982: 13) describes the spot technique as follows: “The spot technique requires that a portion of the curved surface be placed or held on the refractometer with a small drop of liquid, the size of which is reduced until the image that is seen without the eyepiece magnifier is only two or three scale increments.”

Jadeite is doubly refractive. According to Field, the birefringence is 0.013. Other sources give somewhat different numbers: Hall (1994: 124) gives 0.012 and Schumann (1997: 154) gives 0.020. However, Hobbs (1982: 13) warns that “it is rare to see the full spread of refractive indices listed on the property chart because” jadeite is a crystalline aggregate and “only one refractive index is easily resolved with the spot technique.” To obtain a birefringence reading, Hobbs (1982: 14) recommends using the birefrengence blink technique that involves rotating a polaroid plate in front of the refractometer. This technique is illustrated and described by Hobbs (1982: 13, fig. 13).

Jadeite has a specific gravity of 3.33-3.35. Field (2000: 3) reports that “most jadeite…will remain suspended or very slowly sink in methylene iodide (di-iodomethane) that has a density of about 3.32-3.33 at normal room temperature.” Hobbs (1982: 15) also recommends using methylene iodide when testing for jadeite and warns that “jadeite, and many jade-like materials, may contain impurities that will cause the specific gravity to vary. Hobbs (1982: 15) also notes that while three common jadeite simulants (grossularite, zoisite, and idocrase) have specific gravity values that can be confused with jadeite’s all of them have refractive indices that are a good deal lower than jadeite’s.

Spectroscopic analysis is a useful means of identifying jadeite. Moreover, as noted by Hobbs (1982: 15), “the spectroscope is helpful in that both cut and rough, as well as mounted or loose, materials can be tested.” Read (1999: 281) discusses the appearance of jadeite when examined with a spectroscope (also see Hobbs 1982: 15-17; Webster 1975: 228; Walker 1991: 39-40). He states that there is a “diagnostic line in the blue; chrome-rich jadeite has a doublet in the red, and two bands in the red-yellow. Stained jadeite has a band in the orange and one in the yellow-green (plus the diagnostic line at 437 nm).” Field (2000: 3) adds additional detail:

green jadeite shows several bands in the violet, the strongest being at 437 nm. It is intense enough to be discerned by reflected light and by transmitted light if the material is not too opaque or too dark in colour to transmit well. Naturally green jadeite also shows three chromium lines somewhat resembling steps or louvres in the red, at about 630, 660 and 690 nm; but above this is a light zone from about 670 to the end of the visible spectrum. In the “natural green” spectrum just described, there is nothing but darkness above the 690 nm band. Note however, that the band at 437 nm is present in both the natural and dyed examples.

Huang (1999) provides data on the characteristics exhibited by jadeite when examined with a Raman spectroscope:

The Raman modes of jadeite are 292 and 328 cm-1 (Na-O stretching mode); 374, 416, 434 and 576 cm-1 (Al-O vibrational modes); 524, 700, 779 cm-1 (Si-O bending modes) and 887, 986, 992 and 1040 cm-1 (Si-O stretching modes)… There is little variation in the wave number of Raman modes with substitution of iron and chromium in jadeite. Slope of the variation is negative with increasing substitution of iron and chromium.

Jadeite is studied along with fourteen other gem minerals and Huang provides a flow chart (page 311) showing identification procedures to separate one mineral from another. We shall return to the question of identifying dyed jadeite below in the section of treatment of jadeite.

Both Hobbs (1982: 18) and Walker (1991: 41) note that the most precise test in jadeite identification involves X-ray diffraction by the powder method. However, as both authors point out, unfortunately this method is feasible only for sophisticated laboratories.

Before concluding this section, I would like to make reference to an important point made by Hughes, Galibert, et al (2000: 2). They note that “an understanding of jadeite is not limited to the technical or exacting, but it also requires a feeling for the cultural, textural, and ephemeral qualities that make the study of jade unlike any other in the world of gemstones.” Their point reflects jadeite’s very special relationship with Chinese culture, a relationship that is only rivaled perhaps by diamond’s relationship with the English-speaking world.

4. Jadeite Variety Names

There are a number of names for varieties of jadeite that are based on color or other characteristics. The list below includes the most common names encounted in English.

Imperial Jadeite. In its emerald-green, translucent form jadeite is often referred to as “Imperial Jade” or “gem jade”. In Burma this type of jadeite is referred to as mya yay or yay kyauk.

Guatemalan Imperial Jadeite. This term is used for kosmochloric-jadeites and kosmochloric-omphacitites with chromite crystals in their assemblages. An example of this type is the variety that is called “Chichén Green”. Miller (2001: 29) comments that “the intense and highly saturated Imperial green of Burmese jadeite is not often found in the Guatemalan material.” She adds that “this does not mean it doesn’t exist in Guatemala, rather it simply means that at this time, ongoing exploration has failed to produce any sizeable quantity of this highly desirable color.”

Emerald Jadeite. An intense, medium green color.

Yunnan Jadeite. Dark strong green jadeite that is semi-transparent to opaque. It may appear translucent when cut thin.

Chicken or Tomb Jadeite. These terms refer to jadeite that a ywllowish or brown color caused by iron oxidization.

Kingfisher Jadeite. This variety has a shade of green that is said to resemble the brilliant green plummage of the kingfisher.

Water Jadeite or Ice Jadeite. Jadeite without such chromophores as mentioned above is called “pure jade”, “White jade”, or “water jade”. Especially fine pieces are called “crystal jade” or “ice jade”. The latter name refers to the fact that such jadeite has an almost colorless interior.

Apple Jadeite. Intense to medium yellowish-green jadeite is referred to as “Apple Jade”.

Moss-in-Snow Jadeite. Jadeite that is white with vivid green spots and streaks (these are called streamers).

Black Jadeite. There are in fact two types of so-called black jadeite. One of these comes from Burma, and is really gray rather than black, and the other comes from Guatemala, and is truly black.

Ou Yang and Hansheng (1999: 417-418) comment in regard to Burmese black jade that “currently the term ‘black jade’ may include different types of pyroxene jades and is potentially confusing for the trade.” Since first appearing on the market in Burma in the mid-1990s, this type of jadeite has been used to make various forms of jewelry in Hong Kong and Taiwan, but it has not proven to be very popular. The color of this type of jadeite tends to be grayish-black rather than pure black. Since the color is said to be similar to that of black-skinned chickens, in Hong Kong it is sometimes referred to as “black-skin-chicken jadeite”. It is usually found in the vicinity of rivers in the form of boulders and is relatively rare.

Ou Yang and Hansheng (1999: 418-419) describe “black jade” from Burma as being “opaque (fine grained) to translucent (coarser grained) with a vitreous lustre except in a few areas where it tends towards an oily lustre; fresh and well-polished surfaces have a vitreous lustre.” Unlike black nephrite, on polished surfaces black jadeite can exhibit star-like flashes in reflected light. Ou Yang and Hansheng (1999: 419) report that its hardness on the Moh’s scale is about 7, its specific gravity ranges from 3.325 to 3.333, and its RI is 1.653-1.665. It is inert under both long-wave and short-wave ultraviolet light. In terms of its composition, the authors report (page 419) that it is “essentially monomineralic, consisting of 95% jadeite and about 5% accessory minerals and black pigments.” The jadeite belongs to the jadeite-omphacite-diopside pyroxene series. The color is derived from the presence of black or dark opaque dust-like materials that are associated with minute inclusions that are distributed throughout the stone. The inclusions are comprised of metallic oxides and sulphides, amorphous carbon, organic salts, water, CO2, and various hydrocarbons.

In the case of Guatamalan “black jade”, it was used in Prehispanic times to make celts and other artifacts. It is presently being used by lapidaries in Guatemala City and Antigua, Guatemala, to make various types of jewelry. Harlow and Donnelly (1989) describe its petrological features in Guatemala and Garza-Valdés (1993: 113) describes its chemical composition and related properties:

Aegirine-augite (chloromelanite)-rich rocks, or black jade, are metamorphic rocks with a fine-grained-to-cryptocrystalline texture. The color is given by the pyroxene aegirine-augite (chloromelanite) and by taramite, a sodic-calciic amphibole (NaCaNaMgFe22+. [AlFe3+]2Si6Al2O22[OH]2)… The amphibole is markedly pleochroic in blue, brown, and violet. This rock also contains titanite, albite, analcite, grossular, and white mica.

Harlow (1993: 23) says that black jade in Mesoamerica “resembles basalt” and comments that “it is very durable… it takes a very good polish and shows little grain definition.” Anna Miller (2001: 29) quotes Fred Ward about this black jadeite: “Black jadeite from the Moragua Valley area… represents the creamiest, richest, and best black jadeite in the world, far exceeding Burma’s darkest, which is gray and can only be sold as charcoal.”

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