The Secrets of Jade

Published July 5, 2017 in Episode 75

A man is carving a piece of jewelry, popular in Asia. It’s immensely satisfying, watching the rough, opaque jade stone turn into a decorative and polished piece of art.

While you often see older women adorned with jade necklaces or bracelets, nowadays you can see more young women wear them as well.

“I think my first bracelet, my mommy gave it to me when I was in fifth grade. That’s not the one I’m wearing right now -- back then it was a light green bracelet and unfortunately this one became too small and I had to switch to this one right now, which is a dark green bracelet.”

That was Khải Võ Van, a 22-year-old student from Germany. She got her first jade bracelet, a single piece bangle, as a gift when she was ten and she’s worn jade ever since.

  Khải's dark green bracelet (Photo courtesy: Khải Võ Van)

Khải's dark green bracelet (Photo courtesy: Khải Võ Van)

Jade bangles, made out of a single piece of jade, are usually green. The colour changes over time and it is said that the brushing against clothing, together with body heat and sweat are what change its colour.

The Gemological Institute of America says there are two types of jade: the minerals Jadeite and Nephrite. They can have different colours like green, white, yellow, lavender and black, with green being the most valuable one. Each mineral is treated differently. Jadeite, which has a brown component, is bleached with acid to remove the brown. In order to strengthen the now porous material, it is treated with polymer afterwards. Nephrite is often dyed to change its colour.

  Jadeite in its unpolished form (Photo: James St. John. CC BY 2.0)

Jadeite in its unpolished form (Photo: James St. John. CC BY 2.0)

According to the Cultural Heritage Association of Việt Nam, jade has been around since prehistoric times -- around 5000 B.C. It was used as tools, weapons, and jewelry, like the jade bracelet. Jade pieces from the Nguyễn dynasty (1802-1945) have been found inscribed with the seal of kings, or with poetry.

Today, you do not have to be a king or a queen to wear jade. If you are in the market for fine jewelry, just know what to look for to make sure the piece of jade you are buying is fit for a queen. Trần Thanh Huy, the owner of the jade store “Cẫm Thạch Trần Gia” in Sài Gòn, explains how in this Youtube video:

“There are a few more ways to recognize real jade. The first is the clarity. Real jade is naturally cloudy (milky) and not clear. The well-made jade is expensive, and pricing at a billion dollars (VND) is normal. The second is coloring. Even if the jade is real, it is hard to know the specific type of “green” or coloring it is. For example, if you’re wearing green jade, you can only tell people it is green. They will ask, “What type of green is it?” But you can’t really answer [if you’re not an expert].”

Due to the variety in colors available, and the fact that fake jade can be made to look very similar to real jade, the shop owner says the products can be mixed up. He says you should be on the lookout if there are a lot of colors available, like yellows and reds.

“And the last point is sound; when you knock on the jade, after the initial noise, there should be a quiet sound of the vibration travelling up. It should follow your ears up to the top of your head, following the outline of a pyramid. Real jade should sound clear. But if the vibrations are opaque, not very clear, the sound will still travel upwards, but instead of reaching the top of your head, it will travel outwards and away from you, and this means it is not real jade.”

Now that you know how to choose your personal jade bracelet you should also know that it is often gifted to girls by their mothers. For Khải, it’s that relationship to the giver, that seems to give her bracelet extra powers.  

“It feels like it’s protecting me, kind of, because when I didn’t have this bracelet I used to sleep very un-calmly. I told my mom about it and she said, ‘How about wearing this bracelet?’ and after I wore it I could sleep much more calmly.”

Khải says that her jade bangle has become a part of her and it reflects her mood.

“I feel more calm and it also gives me energy. And you can see from the bracelet as well if your energy is if you’re angry or if you’re happy then the colour changes as well.”