Long time ago I worked as a touroperator and tourleader in China. It’s a very big country, with many minority cultures besides the Han Chinese. With 51 dialects, that differ like English and French. With enormous barriers like the Great Wall, the Yang Tse Kiang river or the Gobi dessert. And still… in every place I visited women were wearing jade bracelets. How is that possible with all the differences in culture and the impossibilities to meet each other?
There must be some connection, and jade must be very important to a lot of people. I started a kind of search to discover where this all comes from:
Around 7.000 BC people in China made already artifacts from jade, like knives and ax heads. When they discovered bronze and iron, the Chinese started to make weapons out of that material and jade was only used for making jewelry. Archeologists founded pieces of jade with a little hole in it for using it as a necklace, and they discovered jade in graves. Jade was the symbol for a happy after life and was the symbol of the 5 virtues of mankind: wisdom, justice, humility, mercy and courage.
Around 6000 BC people started to mine jade and from China the popularity of jade was expanded to the rest of South East Asia. Emperor Zhao of the Qin Dynasty promised emperor Huiwen of the Zhao Dynasty 15 fortresses in exchange for a famous piece of jade, called ‘heshibi’. Empress Dowager Cixi owned more than 3.000 jade boxes and every morning she used jade to massage her face. And she received acupunctures with jade needles.
The Chinese emperor Qianlong bought in 1745 a big vessel (3500 kilo) made of jade from monks. The emperor loved the dark green color of the vessel and ordered artisans to cut dragons and leviathans in it. Jade became the gemstone of the emperial court from that time on. The Chinese character (Chinese alphabet) for jade is nearly the same character as the sign for emperor.
Emperor Pu Yi paid his bills with jade, but since he was only a child when he became emperor, courtiers got more and more power and they stole a lot of jade and sold it. Mrs Hui-Lan Koo bought a lot of the emperial jade pieces of jewelry and sold them to the rich and famous in the world. In this way jade became also popular in the Western world.
What is the value of jade?
In China a piece of rough jade is not worth much: but polished or jade as a piece of jewelry is worth more than gold and diamonds in the Western world. The Chinese think about jade not only as a precious stone, but also a stone that prevents evil powers to enter the body. Jade changes in color when it comes in contact with human skin for a longer time. They think that the evil powers go from the body into the jade.
Is jade actually jade?
There are two minerals with different specifications, both are gemstones and both are called ‘jade’. In 1873 mr Damour discovered that there are actually two gemstones: nefrite and jadeite. The two gemstones are different minerals with the same ‘looks’ and features. The jade that was found in China ( around Khotan) is actually nefrite and is also called ‘soft jade’. You can carve in this nefrite easier than in the harder jade, that is found in Myanmar (Burma). Jadeite is as hard as steel and cannot be carved or cut with metal tools; you need machines to labour jadeite. Jadeite (official name of jade) was not so popular in China. Since the 13th century the Chinese emperors started to appreciate especially the emerald color jadeite. They called that jadeite, the emperial jade.
Jade can have many colors, like green, blue, brown, creme, grey, oranje, red, purple, white and jade can have spots. Nefrite only occurs in the colors brown, green, grey and white and also nefrite can have spots or molts. Jade and nefrite feel very soft and smooth, like silk, and they have also soft colors. But especially the jadeite is not ‘soft’ at all: you can hardly break it. And it is even harder to break than diamonds.
Symbolism in jade (i.e. nefrite)
In very ancient times in China the jade was polished in a ‘bi’ form; that is a polished disk with a hole in the centre.. This ‘bi’ represented heaven or eternity. In China you see this disk form a lot: they hang a nefrite disk on a red string in the house and you can buy these ornaments nearly everywhere.
The medical power of jade and nefrite
The Chinese think that wearing jade / nefrite helps when you have kidney or blatter problems. Besides that it stops bleeding and you feel more calm, having a jade or nefrite stone on your skin. And it drops down any fever.
Chinese women wear nefrite bracelets!
Though China is a very large country, with many cultures and because of the great barriers and it was not so easy for the Chinese to communicate, very many women wear jade (and now you know it’s really nefrite) bracelets. They love the light green color, or green in combination with white molts.
When you look at history you can explain this phenomenon due to the fact that Chinese emperors had the power over large pieces of land and the exact bounderies could change. Since those emperors loved jade and you can find nefrite / jade in China, it is more than plausable that the people saw jade and nefrite as ‘want to have’ items. The popularity of jade / nefrite was spread over the whole of China by the emperors and their civil servants.
Jade and nefrite were the gemstones, that symbolized heaven and eternity. And they had medical power, like stop bleeding and fever, and could cure kidney and blatter problems: medical problems that occur a lot with women.
Then the practical size of wearing a jade / nefrite bracelet: it is a very hard stone and not easy to break. Sure that helps when you wear such a bracelet all the time. When a Chinese women wants a jade bracelet she goes to a special bracelet jeweler and he will measure the exact size (very tight), so that the bracelet won’t get in the way. You don’t take the bracelet on and off, because it’s so tight that it will be rather painful. And you wear the bracelet on the left arm, which is practical when you have to write (and you are right handed).
On my trips and travels I am always curious about jewelry: how women wear it, what kind of colors they combine, what kind of shapes they like. With this knowledge I can design a better piece of jewelry from the gemstone beads I buy on my way. Well I hope that you know the difference between jade and nefrite now and that you know why so many Chinese women wear jade bracetes. And when you still have questions, you know where to find me! : firstname.lastname@example.org
Hugs, Florence from FlorenceJewelshop
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