Jade ⽟ a gemologist’s guide: A Book Review by Jeffery Bergman

Click on this link for the original publication

Until now, there has never been a book which addresses jade as a gemological material with extensive information on the history, sources, appraisal and identification of natural, treated, and the various types of jade imitations. But, Jade • A Gemologist’s Guide is not just a Hughes family book covering these subjects. It is, rather, a comprehensive treatise featuring contributions from a veritable who’s who of the complex intercontinental world of jade, including twenty-two archeologists, authors, gemologists, research scientists, professors, museum curators, carvers, collectors, auctioneers and dealers.

 Yù (⽟), the character for jade, is one of the oldest in the Chinese language dating back ~5,000 years. It represents the concept of a tough translucent rock, often but not always green, that is carved and polished into tools, weapons and decorative objects. Gemologically speaking, we divide jade into two categories; nephrite and jadeite. But to the Chinese, at least half a dozenmaterials were, and still are considered jade.

Pendant in the form of a female dancer. Eastern Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 bce). Nephrite jade, probably from Jincun, Henan Province, China. Photo: Freer Gallery of Art at theSmithsonian Institution, purchased from Yamanaka and Company, New York in 1930
Ngāti Maniapoto chief Wahanui Reihana Te Huatare (?–1897), as painted by Gottfried Lindauer. Wahanui was a fighting chief and skilled orator. In this portrait, he wears a hei-tiki around his neck, his hair is adorned with two kōtuku (white heron) feathers and his massive pounamu is tilted forward in a strike position.

In true Hughes style, the images are numerous, from sublime to stunning presenting readers with a cornucopia of history, maps, mines, rough, cut and carved jade treasures both ancient and modern. And of course, there are the people. Miners, traders, explorers, adventurers, artisans, and a few token gemologists. One of my favorite illustrations is a painting of Ngāti Maniapoto chief Wahanui Reihana Te Huatare, a fighting chief and skilled orator wearing a New Zealand nephrite hei-tiki around his neck, and holding a massive nephrite pounamu tilted forward in a strike position.

Coolies at Hpakangyi, a huge excavation with over 10,000 people. Photo: Richard W. Hughes, 1997
Vendors selling jade in one of many outdoor markets at Shifosi City, Henan Province, China. The piece on the pedestal at left is Dushan jade. Photo: Richard W. Hughes, 2019

Burma is well know for jadeite, China and New Zealand for nephrite, so many readers will likely be surprised to learn that nephrite is also found in Switzerland, the UK and Zimbabwe, and jadeite in Japan, Italy and California. In fact, there are actually several dozen locations around the world, and on every continent except Antarctica, where jade has been discovered. 

While bangles are considered the number one form of wearable jade, carvings are certainly the best utilization of material as they maximize weight retention removing the lower grade material while retaining the finest colors and translucency. The great revival in China’s jade carving art has been boosted by the development of motor-driven equipment such as the flexible-shaft engraving machine with diamond impregnated grinding burrs and points, and the refinement of tools for specific uses such as ultrasonic drilling equipment and vibratory polishers.

Master carvers such as Zhuang Qingfang take a different approach, utilizing such variations in transparency and color into their jade sculptures, creating works that rise above the simple "pound of flesh" value of the rough, utilizing it as a canvas for work that can stand with any fine art in the world. Jadeite jade; height: 58 mm.
Modern jade carvers use a variety of motorized tools to grind jade, but polishing is still a painstakingly slow process that is done by hand. Photos: E. Billie Hughes & Wimon Manorotkul

For serious gemologist readers, the controversy over jadeite, omphacite and/or kosmochlor iswell explained. As a ruby and sapphire aficionado, I was particularly interested to learn jadeite from Myanmar can contain rutile crystal inclusions. Also comprehensively covered are the subjects of jade treatments, synthetics and stimulants, and the grading of the various types of natural jades as well.

A bangle with a glassy green balanced with a rich lavender, as transparent as it gets, is a dream of countless jade enthusiasts. For protection and safety, bangles are wrapped and attached to a folded fabric envelope. This system not only allows one to pack multiple items in a small box or safe, but it also makes it easy to try on the bracelet without removing its presentation wrapper. Bangle and photo: Siam Color Gems & Jewelry
Earrings in green tourmaline and chrome green Burmese jadeite jade. Known to the Chinese as fei tsui, jadeite jade is one of the world’s most valuable gems. Photo and jewelry: Doris Hangartner/Zürich.
Natural “imperial” untreated jadeite jade (Type A) such as the magnificent necklace shown here is one of the most valuable gems in the world. Literally millions of dollars can ride on the correct identification. Photo & necklace: On Tung Jewellery, Hong Kong, China

Giving credit where credit is due, contributors other than editor and publisher Richard W. Hughes include gemologist Dr. Ahmadjan Abduriyim, jade carver Dale Blankenship, museum curator Dr. George E. Harlow, collector and dealer Eric J. Hoffman, gemologist E. Billie Hughes, archeologist Chenglong “Chris” Jiang, research scientist John I Koivula, jade dealer Nikolai B. Kouznetsov, research scientist Liu Yicen, jade miner Kirk Makepeace, jade dealer Jeff Mason, gemologist Dr. Dominic W. K. Mok, professor Qi Lijian, archaeologist Mary Lou Ridinger, master jade carver Donn Salt, gemologist Roland Schluessel, master jade carver Andrew Shaw, professor Dr. Shi Guanghai, curator Susan Stronge, professor Dr. Mingying Wang, designer Stewart Young, and gemology professor Dr. Zhou Zhengyu, and a host of others who loaned specimens, collection pieces and reference samples photographed and included in this book.

Destined to be proclaimed the “Bible” of jade, I give Jade ⽟ a gemologist’s guide an enthusiastic Two Thumbs Up, 5-Star endorsement. Buy it, read it, give it away. I am fully confident you will be satisfied, ingratiated and inspired.