The History of Jade

When jade is found it comes inside stones, rocks and even boulders, and the value cannot be seen but only guessed upon and in fact it may not contain jade at all. One method of knowing is to strike the stone with a hammer or sledge hammer since a jade stone will rebound the hammer. Once ascertained that it is indeed jade a small window is cut into the stone and from this the expert dealers have to estimate or even guess at the value and quality within. They don't always get it right. A Burmese taxi driver bought a jadestone for 23 U.S. dollars. He sold it on for 5000 U.S. dollars to a dealer who resold it for 23,000 U.S dollars. Once a stone is cut and the jade carved into the largest artifact it will allow, the smaller pieces are used for beads and rings and even the tiniest of pieces are ground up and combined with other ingredients to produce building materials said to promote a calm and peaceful environment in which to live or work.

Today Myanmar (Burma) is the largest exporter of jade, with some exports coming from Guatemala, New Zealand, Australia and a growing trade from Canada. Although jade is most commonly associated with China its supply is mostly exhausted and as few or no records are kept it is mostly impossible to tell where a piece of jade comes from.

The largest Jade boulder ever found is in Myanmar, estimated to weigh 3000 tons, it is buried forty foot underground and measures twenty one meters by five meters by ten meters. There are many claims as to the largest jade carving. In Beijing there is a carving of a ship twenty foot long. In Anshan Temple, China, stands a Buddha eight meters tall weighing 260 tons. It took eighteen months and 120 sculptures to complete and is housed in a Temple building 33 meters high representing the 33 layers of heaven in Buddhism. A piece of gem-stone quality jadestone found in Canada has been carved into a four ton, seven foot high Buddha. Currently on display in Florida, it denotes peace and will be displayed around the world before permanently residing in Australia.

Because of its strength Jade, both Nephrite Jade and Jadeite, can be carved into the most intricate and exquisite designs depicting country scenes, dragons, herds of horses, beautiful rings, earrings or necklaces. Because of its antiquity, estimated at being 141-570 million years old, it is rising in value rapidly. Asian dealers are on a huge buy-back scheme very aggressively bidding on pieces turning up in auction rooms around the world. At Sotheby's Auction House in Hong Kong recently a white jade seal valued at 6.4 million U.S. dollars sold for 12.29 million U.S. dollars. A small green jade elephant that sat in a bank vault for almost seventy years, valued at 150.000 pounds sterling, sold in a small English country auction house for 4.2 million pounds sterling.

What other gem holds such mystique? What other gem can be carved into such a large object and such a tiny artifact. It is valued for its artistic sentiment, its investment appreciation and its health giving benefits, bestowing calm and peace on its wearer. What other gemstone can hold its value when flawed? Some imperfect jade is all the more valuable because of it. Jade, a small piece of heaven bestowed upon mankind by the Gods.

Peace, tranquility and deep wisdom are just some of the attributes of Jade, "The Stone of Wisdom and Prosperity". Jade carved into a butterfly is thought to attract love. A wise Chinese person would never make an important decision unless they were holding a piece of genuine jade or 'Zhen yu'. Harder than steel Jade is an extremely tough gemstone and in prehistoric times it was used for tool and weapon making, in ancient China and amongst the Mayas and Aztecs of Central America it was more valuable than gold, it is a symbol of all that is good and precious and has been so for thousands of years.

Jade is a metamorphic rock, of dense close grained matted aggregates formed by heat and pressure and there are actually two types. 'Nephrite' is made up of hydrated silicate of calcium, magnesium and iron with a specific density of 2.90 to 3.02, a refraction index of between 1.60-63 and 1.62-65 and hardness on the Mohs scale of 6.5, it comes in various shades of green, but also in white, yellow or red. 'Jadeite' which is stronger and rarer and therefore more valuable, is sodium, aluminum silicate, with a specific gravity of 3.30 to 3.36, refraction is 1.645-1.667 and hardness is 7. (Steel incidentally is 6.5 and diamonds 10). Jadeite can be found in green, white, pink, red, black, brown and violet. Each color has its own attributes. Red defuses tense situations. Yellow and orange bring inner peace. Green is the color of healing, gives hope, is calming and can bring about romance. Blue helps one meditate. Black is a defense against negative situations. Brown connects to the earth. White and cream can boost energy.

The birthstone for March, Jade got its name from the Spanish 'piedra de jada', the loin stone, as it is believed to be effective in helping cure problems with the kidneys. It is said to be more valuable than gold for gold can be evaluated, whereas Jade, 'The stone of Heaven', is priceless. The finest Jadeite comes from Myanmar while Nephrite is found in China, Guatemala, New Zealand and Canada.

Thought to be a good investment sales of Jade have risen sharply in recent times with antiquities fetching ever higher prices. Production in Myanmar in the first four months of this year almost matched the whole of last year. The largest stone ever was recorded in 2000 in Phakant in the northernmost province of Kachin, weighing in at three thousand tons and measuring approximately twenty one meters by five meters by ten meters high. More recently a raw jade stone weighing 115 tons was reportedly discovered in the same place.

The myths and stories surrounding jade only serve to make it more mysterious and more valuable. Wearing an ornament of jade will give you a fascinating life, a safe journey and a peaceful death, fortunes have been squandered, cities gambled and poor Bian He lost his legs as we shall learn.

Approximately 2,700 years ago, whilst cutting wood on Mount Jing in the kingdom of Chu, the woodcutter Bian He discovered a stone he believed held a valuable piece of jade and rather than keep it for himself he presented it to King Li of Chu. It was decided that it was of no value and as a punishment for wasting the King's time it was ordered that one of Bian He's legs be amputated. Years passed and so did King LI, he was succeeded by King Wu, so once again Bian He presented his stone to the court and once again it was decreed that he was wasting time and wanting to deceive. He therefore should have his remaining leg cut off. Eventually the kingdom of Chu came under the rule of King Wen, and Bian He being a persistent person, or a perhaps a slow learner, again presented his stone to the King. This time however the stone was cut open and, to the amazement of all, the white jade found inside was of the highest quality ever to be discovered and was carved into a disc. To bestow honour upon Bian He it was named 'He Shi Bi', The Jade disc of He. This disc later came to be owned by the ruling King of Zhao, and being of such immense value the ruler of Quin state offered to buy it in exchange for fifteen cities along with all their citizens and lands. During negotiations it became apparent that he was not going to honour his offer and only by threatening to smash the disc and kill himself was the King of Zhao's representative allowed to retain the disc and return it to his King. Even today "to return the jade to Zhao" means to return something to its rightful owner. Eventually however this piece of jade did fall into the hands of Quin, and it was then inscribed "Having received the mandate from heaven, may the Emperor lead a long and prosperous life" 'He Shi Bi' had become the 'The Imperial Seal of China' and its possession was proof of ruler-ship.

The status and symbolism of jade is quite staggering and it is difficult for most western minds to grasp the intrinsic value given to it by the far east, that enigmatic east, where its power far out reaches is monetary value. The Supreme Deity of Taoism has the name 'Yuhuang Dadi', The Jade Emperor. To preserve his body Liu Sheng, the ruler of Zhongshan State in 113 BC was buried in a suit made from 2,498 pieces of jade sewn together with gold thread. A jade mouthpiece for an opium pipe is said to bestow longevity. To be "as unpolished jade" is to be ignorant.

Jade also called "The Divine Stone" was treasured by the Pharaoh's of Egypt, the Celts of Europe, the Maoris of New Zealand, the Incas, the Aztecs and Mayans. It is unlike any other gem. Not just a precious jewel it can be used as a tool, a scraper, an axe head or a spear head for it is harder than steel. Archaeological excavations in the Immortal cave in Liaoning province in China have found artifacts which they have dated 12000 years old. A piece of jade carved into a deer symbolizes high office, as a duck love; carved into bamboo it denotes lofty conduct, as a fan benevolence, a lotus holiness and fashioned into a cabbage it denotes wealth and prosperity. Recently a small green elephant valued at 150,000 pounds sterling which had sat in a vault since 1940 went under the hammer fetching 4.2 million pounds sterling. Ounce for ounce Jade surpasses gold in value.

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