Gemologists have identified two types of Jade: Jadeite and Nephrite.
Nephrite, also known as “Chinese Jade”, is very popular in Asia, especially in China, Japan and Thailand. The largest source of Nephrite in the world is located in British Columbia, Canada and New Zealand.
The other type of Jade is “Jadeite” which is rarer and harder to get. It is basically found in four countries around the world: Burma or Myanmar, Russia, Japan and Guatemala.
The most important differences between these two types of Jade are their chemical composition and hardness. In the Moh’s scale, where diamond is ranked 10, nephrite hardness is between 6.0 and 6.5, while the hardness of jadeite oscillates between 7.0 and 7.5.
The difference between these two types are:
Jade, in general, has been used to manufacture a great variety of products, and for many centuries it has been considered a lucky charm. In China and Mesoamerica, jade has been used since 5,000 ago to elaborate utensils and ornaments, as well as tools and weapons.
The variety of jade found in Guatemala is Jadeite Jade. The sacred stone that one day could be declared Guatemala’s National Stone due to its importance among our ancestors.
The main source of Jade in our country, the same used by the Mayas, is found in Zacapa, approximately 120 miles from Guatemala City. More specifically, in the big mountain chain known as “Sierra de las Minas” and at the Valley of the Motagua River, where it is also possible to find quartz, different metals, marble, and several green stones that sometimes can be mistaken with jade, such as Aventurine and Serpentine.
In Guatemala, we have a wide range of colors of jadeite jade. The color of jade at the formation is a light white grayish color, commercially known as “Moon Jade”. Through the natural process of thousands of years of Jade being pushed up to the surface, other elements can change the chemical composition of it producing a variety of colors.
Some of the minerals that produce the different jadeite jade colors are:
- Titanium, which causes pastel shades specially lavenders and opal colors,
- Iron causes the very deep green and black color. Guatemala´s black Jade is very unique and it can only be found here, and
- Chromium causes all the other green shades. It also produces the most valuable bright, lime green color known as “Imperial Jade”, only found in a vein or at the core of some rocks. A very scarce, rare and valuable color.
These different shades and colors make Jade a pride for our country.
Symbology of the different colors of Jade Jadeite
According to scientists and historians, The Mayans attributed to Jade… wealth, power, status and most importantly “life”. They associated this beautiful green stone with a mystical passport to a supernatural world, named “Xibalba”, or The Underworld.
Archeologist’s findings show that Jade was reserved for the nobles. That’s why most jade treasures are found in tombs of kings, princesses and governors of the Mesoamerican area, from Mexico to Costa Rica. Some of the jade artworks that have been found are: bracelets, rings, ankle bracelets, craniums with dental incrustations, and mosaic pieces. Amazing examples of these are the King Pakal´s Funerary Mask, the mosaic Portrait Funerary Vase that belonged to Yikin Chaan Kawl of Tikal and the beautiful mosaic mask from the Burial #160 of Tikal, which probably belonged to Kalomte Balam.
Currently, Jade must be processed with Industrial Diamond Equipment because of its hardness, and we know our ancestors did not have any of the contemporary equipment nor electricity. These facts lead us to ask the following question: How did The Maya carved Jade?
Based on the discoveries at “Cancuen” ruins, now we can tell the Maya carved all these beautiful treasures with the friction of Jade over Jade. Probably, they also used hand tools like a string saw made out of leather and used quartz as an abrasive (7.0 in Mohs scale). They also used smaller jade tools to carve all the details in pendants, figures and some masks. To drill holes in jade beads, pendants and ceremonial bars they used similar tools with friction and rotation. And finally to polish the pieces they made a mixture of sand, powder of crystals and resins from trees, producing a mix very similar to sandpaper today. It is very impressive to see the work they did with such a rudimentary technology, that´s why the Mesoamerican jade pieces are considered true treasures of art.
There has always existed other minerals that people have tried to comercialized as jade, because they are very similar in color, such is the case of serpentine. Serpentine is also found in the same places as jadeite and nephrite, but it is softer and easier to work, therefore it has become a subsitute for jade.
In Guatemala, we can find many other stones in the market that are not Jade, such as: Guatemalite, quartz, obsidian and serpentine.