Jade has been a highly prized stone in Chinese culture, even more than diamonds, rubies, or emeralds. After the Qing Dynasty fell in 1911, the country was economically-stressed during much of the last century, thereby dampening the jade market. But the rapid economic growth of past decades has created a strong middle class that is once again fuelling the demand for jade.
Jade is basically composed of two minerals — jadeite and nephrite. Jadeite varieties are rarer and therefore considered to be more valuable. Jadeite transformed into a gem usually has a white or deep green color. In contrast, nephrite gems tend to have a yellow or brown tint.
The value of jade is influenced by several factors, one of them being whether it has been treated. “Jade that has not been treated is the most valuable, as treatment can reduce its durability. This type of jade is classified as Grade A or A-type. B-type jade is treated with an acid solution and filled with resin but is not colored, so it sometimes is sold as ‘natural color jadeite jade,’” Clare Richardson, auctioneer and Head of Jewelry at Barsby Auctions, said to Invaluable. Other critical factors that determine the value of jade include color, size, translucency, and workability.
In China, jade sales have grown exponentially in the last 10 years. In 2016, the nephrite jade market alone was estimated to be worth US$30 billion. Since jade does not have an international pricing system like that of diamonds, gold, and other precious gems, judging the true value of jade and the total market worth is a tricky affair. Russian jade has been sold off at a price of up to US$900 per pound. In contrast, a rare white nephrite that is popularly known as “mutton fat” costs about US$68,000 per pound.
Chinese investors who already have interests in traditional assets like stocks and bonds now buy jade in greater proportion as a way to expand their investment portfolio. Due to strong demand, fraudsters have started selling quartz and serpentine as authentic jade. Such fake items usually do not carry the luster of real jade and can easily be identified as inauthentic by a trained eye.
Jewelry buying tips
When buying jade jewelry, always ask for a certificate of authenticity from the seller. This basically confirms that the jade has been scanned and scrutinized by an independent expert. Usually, sellers only offer free certificates for Grade A jade. If you plan on purchasing grade B, C, or D jades, you may have to pay for the cost of the certificate.
If you are in a situation where the seller is unable to provide certification, you can check whether the jade offered is authentic by scratching its surface with your fingernails. Real jade is tough and will not leave scratches. If the seller is not okay with the “scratch test,” the jade is probably fake.
If you are in Taiwan or Hong Kong and wish to purchase jade, avoid buying just a few days before any traditional Chinese festival. This will be the time when prices will be at the highest. Wait for a few days after the festival and you will be in a better position to buy jade at attractive prices. The best place to shop in Hong Kong is the Jade Market in Tsim Sha Tsui.