Nephrite Jade Meaning and Properties

Nephrite Jade History

As the West views diamond, the East views jade.

Neolithic sites include simple ornaments carved of jade, which soon expanded to include knives, wood-working tools and weapons. This stone was immensely popular in the Balkans, early China, New Zealand, Southeast Asia and both coasts of the early Americas. It became the preferred material for creating objects d'art and scholars' supplies in China, with the value of certain varieties exceeding their weight in silver and gold.

Chinese culture so values jade that it appears in many of their idioms. As an American might say a lovely young woman is, "pretty as a picture," the Chinese equivalent might be to say she has a, "jade countenance." Nephrite can be found in a translucent white to pale yellow color called "mutton fat" jade--this is viewed as the most precious and prized hue. Jade is valued across Southeast Asia, including Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines and elsewhere.

Mesoamerica also valued jade--it was a rare stone used only for the highest elites. The conquistadores discovered the natives using it, and samples brought back to Europe by them were identified as nephrite in 1780. This stone is also known as British Columbia jade, grave jade, New Zealand greenstone, spinach jade and other names.

Nephrite is derived from lapis nephriticus (Latin for "stone of the kidneys"), for the traditional belief in its power to heal the kidneys and loins.

Nephrite Jade Metaphysical Properties

For a sense of the spiritual value of jade, look into the face of a great carved Buddha. In that face is deep peace, balance and strength. Nephrite jade is believed to promote those qualities in its wearers, offering physical and emotional well-being, especially during unpleasant or difficult situations.

Nephrite is one of several durable stones called "pounamu" by the Maori, and is highly valued among them as a taonga (treasure). Pounamu, shaped into both tools and ornaments, gain prestige and social value as they are handed down through the generations.

Of course, being named the stone of the kidneys, nephrite is believed to cure kidney stones.

Nephrite Jade Geological Properties

Nephrite is a form of jade which is composed of jade and actinolite. It is slightly softer than jadeite (the other form of jade), but tougher (more resistant to breaking) than jadeite because nephrite has a denser structure. It is considered a tough stone because of its lack of cleavage and dense composition; however, it can be scratched rather easily. Nephrite can contain minor to trace amounts of other minerals, including diopside, chromite, vesuvianite, serpentine and others. It is most often green, owing to the iron content in actinolite, but is also seen in white, yellow and brown shades.

While jadeite is the stone most commonly associated with modern appreciation of jade, nephrite has its own proponents, who find the deep green color appealing and prefer a tougher material. Jade is currently treated in a range of ways, according to the SSEF Swiss Gemmological Institute:

While historical deposits of nephrite include Poland and mainland China, nephrite jade is currently found in British Columbia, Russia, Taiwan and numerous locations within the United States.

Mineral Information Nephrite, actinolate group
Chemical Composition Ca2(MgFe)5(Si4O11)2
Color Range of colors, most often green
Hardness 6 to 6-1/2 (Mohs)
Specific Gravity 2.90 - 3.02
Refractive Index 1.600 - 1.627

Proper Care of Nephrite Jade

Nephrite jade is a tough stone, not an indestructible one. To clean nephrite jewelry, use plain lukewarm soapy water and a soft cloth. Be sure to rinse well to remove residues, since nephrite is porous and can absorb colors quite easily. (Avoid chemicals, ultrasonic cleaners and steamers for the same reason.)

Keep nephrite away from extreme temperature fluctuations or prolonged heat and strong light. Store nephrite away from other gemstones--you'll avoid scratches and fractures of both the nephrite and other stones. It is best to always wrap your gemstones in soft cloth, fabric storage bag or place them inside a fabric-lined jewelry box.

To learn more about nephrite and other gemstones, order your copy of Walter Schumann's revised and expanded edition of Gemstones of the World.

Designing with Nephrite Jade

Nephrite jade is an excellent jewelry gemstone that takes a high polish. It is most often cut into larger pendants, smooth beads or en cabochon--or as ornamental figures and carvings.

Nephrite is especially popular throughout Asia for use in talismans and amulets. Unlike other gemstones, it is not uncommon to find entire pieces of jewelry, such as rings and bracelets, carved entirely from a single mass of nephrite. Nephrite jade jewelry is popular in New Zealand's Maori designs, especially among tourists.

Our nephrite jade--an opaque medium to dark green--is primarily from British Columbia. It combines beautifully with almost every metal (silver, gold and copper finishes all look stunning with nephrite), pairs gorgeously with a range of other gemstone materials (garnet for contrast, white pearl for neutral, etc.), and looks dazzling with Czech fire-polished and crystal beads. As nephrite is a tough stone, bead caps or knotting is recommended to protect surrounding materials.

Use the color wheel to see how nephrite would look with analogous (nearby) colors, complementary (opposite) colors--or experiment with a range of color schemes.

View design inspirations featuring nephrite jade in the Gallery of Designs

Shop for Nephrite Jade Items

**Please note that all metaphysical or healing properties listed are collected from various sources. This information is offered as a service and not meant to treat medical conditions. Fire Mountain Gems and Beads® does not guarantee the validity of any of these statements.

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