Like most precious gemstones, Jade has been on the scene for centuries. Nowadays, it’s common to see jaw-dropping jade jewels, but we don’t really hear about where it all began. Jade has remained a key component in several cultures throughout history, most notably for the ancient Chinese and the Mayans. Many of our NOVICA artisans have kept these unique traditions alive with their beautiful jade creations. But before we discuss where it was, and why, let’s talk about what exactly it is.
As mentioned, jade is a precious gemstone. It’s a little different than most other types of stones, though. ‘Jade’ actually accounts for two different types of rocks, both with a similar makeup, so when we hear the term it could either be referring to ‘nephrite jade’ or ‘jadeite jade’. Due to the striking resemblance between the two, we can’t rely on our eyes to tell them apart. With that said, there are slight color variations. For the most part, it’s safe to say that very pale to nearly white jade is nephrite while the more vibrantly colored jades are jadeite. Conducting a few tests to determine composition, density, etc. is the best way to distinguish which type of jade you’re dealing with. Nephrite is less dense, for the record.
Moving along to where:
For the sake of chronology, let’s begin our recap in China circa 3,000 B.C.E. It was around this time that Jade became known as yu within the Chinese culture, which translates to ‘the royal gem.’ Nephrite was the first type of jade to earn praise. Eventually, due to its widespread popularity, the traditional deposits in China were all depleted. It was now jadeite’s time to shine. Not only was it beautiful enough to serve as a ritual object or ornament, but its durability made it the perfect material for tools and weapons alike. If you shop around today, it’s usually jadeite that you’ll see stocked in stores.
Fun fact: Interestingly, the hànzì characters, (the written version of Mandarin, which is spoken by the Chinese,) for ’emperor’ and ‘jade’ are nearly identical, with the only difference being a single brushstroke. Coincidence? We think not.
There’s no doubt that jade holds clout in several areas of the world, but for our purposes, let’s stick to Chinese & Mayan culture. Mayan society was heavily based on social status and the nobility often wore jewelry to identify themselves. Jade was one of the stones primarily used, as its green color represented nature, which was of the utmost importance to the Maya. In addition to jewelry, jade also served for various other purposes: light green jade was used for medicine and shamanism, dark green for good luck amulets, and black for religious ceremonies. The earrings above are the perfect pair to prep you for any full moon ceremony!
NOVICA history 101: Jade was so highly regarded by the Maya that when Hernán Cortéz and his fellow Spanish conquistadors invaded and demanded an offering, they handed over some jade stones. To their dismay, Cortéz did not see the value and denied the stones, as gold was what they had in mind. To our dismay, too! If I was offered some jade jewelry, like the necklace below, I’d say yes in a heartbeat.
If the importance of jade to the Mayans isn’t clear, listen to this~ Back in the ’60s, several funeral masks were discovered in a tomb located in Tikal, which is one of the largest Mayan archaeological cities. Two of our talented artists, Ruben & Gilda Perez, masterfully handcrafted a replica of one of the masks from jade and stucco, as seen below. The original dates back to 527 C.E. and was created using jade, jasper, serpentine, obsidian, and shell. It is said that these masks were placed in burials to be worn by the spirit of the deceased king. Their splendor attracted people from all over the world. This replica mask eventually graced the cover of National Geographic in 1987.
I believe in magic, do you?
After conducting some research and checking out the dozens of jade treasures on NOVICA, it comes as no surprise that it’s revered as the magical gemstone. Thankfully, there are talented artisans like Ruben & Gilda to keep the spirit of jade alive. Green symbolizes life and nature, which couldn’t be more fitting for a stone like jade. Adding it to your ensemble is sure to breathe new life into your look! I don’t know about you, but all this jade talk is making me eager to go green.