Professional Jeweler Archive: Heaven-Sent Jade

November 2002

Gemstones & Pearls/News


Heaven-Sent Jade

Revered for centuries, jadeite jade is hot again


Innovative designs, changing consumer tastes, new sources and consumers’ desire to own something distinctive are driving today’s percolating jadeite jade market.

That jade would emerge as a force during these recessionary times is a surprise to even the most seasoned dealers. “Sales of all kinds of jade jewelry have tripled since January,” says designer and dealer Nikolai Tsang of Jade by Nikolai, Honolulu, HI. “I don’t have time to talk with friends who call me for a chit-chat. I’m too busy adding new designs or filling orders.”

The same is true for retailers who have committed to jade, which had its last heyday in the 1950s. Some stores, like The Goldsmith in Binghamton, NY, describe a “frenzy” among consumers to acquire unique designs when a new shipment arrives. In a frail economy, frenzies of any kind are unheard of, so jade’s new popularity is a gift. By that measure alone, jade is living up to its name, which in China means “stone of heaven.”

Consumer Savvy

Jewelers who carry jadeite jade (rarer and more expensive than nephrite jade) say profits have followed quite naturally. “Once customers develop a taste for it, they tend to become collectors,” says Gina Mowry-McHugh, president of The Goldsmith. “Young women and working women are our best customers; they like the variety of colors, and we have a wide range of price points.”

To make an impact on customers, jewelers we contacted recommend a display of over two dozen pieces in assorted colors. Specifically, consumers seem drawn to jade bracelets, pendants, rings and necklaces, they say.

Design is crucial and depends on customer demographics. Well-heeled mature customers who collect jade appreciate the symbolism of carvings; younger customers like the variety of colors, styles and avant-garde designs.

Overcoming Hesitations

Relatively few U.S. retailers give jade jewelry much thought. Tsang says it’s because the gem is shrouded in mystery and largely misunderstood in the U.S. Her strategy to overcome jade hesitancy is to offer jewelers a guarantee: “If the jade designs don’t sell within three months,” she says, “I am willing to take them back in exchange for newer designs.” So far, just 1% of her sales are exchanged; most clients call back within a few weeks to order more.

Don Kay of Mason-Kay, Denver, CO, gives jade lectures across the country. He tells jewelers about traditional Chinese symbols carved in jade and advises them about jade varieties and quality. For her part, Tsang gives her customers a book about jade and takes time to educate store associates about new styles, quality and other selling points. “We are finding a very receptive audience for jade styles that have simpler carvings or symbols they can relate to,” she says. “It’s a cultural thing: many Americans can’t relate to Chinese symbols like bats or birds. But they do see the beauty and symbolism of a flower or a butterfly. We also accent our jewelry with other gemstones, including transparent stones such as spinel. This gives jade a fresh look.”

Jadeite Treatments

Much jadeite jade is treated, and disclosure is required. But it’s generally very difficult to recognize treatment, so it’s best to rely on a qualified laboratory, particularly with high-value jadeite.

Jadeite is categorized as “A”, “B” or “C” jade:

  • “A” jade is not treated and has natural color.
  • “B” jade is bleached, which involves immersing it in a heated combination of sulfuric and hydrochloric acid. This dissolves mineral components, rendering the gem porous and receptive to dye or impregnation with polymers. “B” jade is impregnated with polymers. The impregnations can deteriorate over time, exhibiting a granular structure or cracks. Kay and other experts also say the acid treatment often renders jade brittle, particularly when mounted in jewelry.
  • “C” jade is dyed. Green, red and lavender jades, which have the highest value, are the colors you should most likely suspect as treated. Blacks, yellows and browns are rarely treated. Be aware the dyes can fade over time.

Jade Primer

If you sell jade, you should understand the difference between jadeite jade and nephrite jade. Both are mineral conglomerates; but jadeite jade, a silicate of aluminum, is considered the gemstone among jades. Jade from Myanmar (formerly Burma) is the standard by which jades from other sources are judged. Canada and Guatemala are emerging as important sources too, though experts agree jade from Myanmar remains the benchmark.

For now, say jade experts, Myanmar is producing steady quantities. Most of it is exported to China, where Kay says the best jadeite and nephrite are carved and processed into jewelry or carvings. Hong Kong, once a preeminent buying center for jadeite and nephrite, has lost its luster in recent years, while Shanghai and Canton are emerging as important markets. “There is so much expertise there,” he says. “Superb carvers, once active carving ivory, are switching to jade because the market for ivory has all but ended.”

Quality factors for jadeite as a gemstone include color, saturation of color, homogeneity and translucency. The more translucent and the fewer inclusions the better. (In the finest qualities, it’s possible to read characters on a page by placing jadeite on top). In some cases, two or more colors can be combined. Depending on the strength of saturation, placement and pattern, these too can be highly desirable.

Green is historically the most sought-after color, particularly “Imperial” jade, an intense green, combined with superb translucency. In all other colors of jadeite jade, color saturation, homogeneity and translucence carry equal importance.

  • Barbara Westwood Designer Jewelry, Monument, CO; (800) 847-6585 or (719) 488-8083.
  • Jade by Nikolai, Honolulu, HI; (808) 377-2333, nikolaitsang@msn.com.
  • Mason-Kay, Denver, CO; (800) 722-7575, www.masonkay.com.

– by Robert Weldon, G.G.

Imperial jade as seen in this pendant from Barbara Westwood Designer Jewelry and ring from Mason-Kay set a standard for the highest quality jadeite jade. The cabochons are pure green, homogenous and highly translucent.

Photo by Robert Weldon.

Jadeite jade comes in a huge assortment of colors, including those seen in this collection from Mason-Kay.

Photo by Robert Weldon.

Some retailers are selling new jewelry designs feature finely crafted jade carvings combined with transparent gems. These pieces are from Jade by Nikolai. The bracelet adds spinel beads to carved jade.

Photo by Robert Weldon.

New, young consumers are devoted to fresh designs like one from Jade by Nikolai that combine jadeite carvings and beads.

Photo by Robert Weldon.

Copyright © 2002 by Bond Communications