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The History of Jade as a Precious Material

Jade nephrite and jadeite are minerals with a fine crystalline structure. The crystals are felted together creating an interlocking structure which gives them a greater toughness than steel! Therefore, it is no surprise that jade was used as early as the Neolithic age as tools and weapons particularly as axes, knives or scrapers.

Nephrite and jadeite

In China the name for genuine jade is 'Chen yu'. Undoubtedly, this name would apply to objects made out of nephrite. However, the word 'yu' or 'jade' is very ambiguous and was loosely used by Europeans as an umbrella term for describing many semi-precious hardstones such as chalcedony, serpentine and bowenite bearing similar characteristics in appearance and hardness, although it is most commonly used to describe either nephrite or jadeite.

Chen yu

The Chinese character 'yu' also has other meanings, namely 'jewel' or 'treasure'. This is not so surprising considering that jade has for centuries been classed in Chinese culture as a precious stone in the same way that diamonds are classed in Western culture.

Healing properties of jade

Although jade is highly prized for its aesthetic appearance and tactile quality, it has always been credited for certain healing aspects. In China it is believed that by placing jade in direct contact with the skin, it will help prevent illnesses such as kidney disease and help to maintain regular urinary functions. Through China's trade dealings with Portugese merchants and sailors in the 16th century, this belief was readily accepted by some Portugese and so jade was consequently named 'pedra de mijada' meaning 'urinary stone'. Therefore the word jade is clearly derived from a corruption of these words.

'Lapis nephriticus' and 'nephros'

It wasn't until two centuries later however, that minerals were actually classified in Latin. The present day scientific name nephrite is derived from the Latin name 'lapis nephriticus' and the word nephrite actually comes from the Greek word nephros meaning kidneys.

If you have any Chinese jade or Asian art items in general, please contact Robin Newcombe at Grand Auctions, Folkestone, Kent.