BC Jade, called Nephrite Jade is mined mostly in northern BC, around the Cassiar Mountains and Dease Lake area. As the terrain is rugged and because of the extreme winter weather, mines usually operate only 90 days a year. After the Jade has been located and cut it is trucked out and exported all over the world, especially to China at 100 tons per year. Northern BC has the richest known concentration of Nephrite Jade in the world outstipping Australia, New Zeland, Russia and China and mines about 200 tons per year.
Nephrite Jade was created between 50 and 185 million years ago, when two massive tectonic plates rich in iron and magnesium smashed together . The pressure and heat transformed this material into hard nephrite jade.
Historically, Jade was considered the Chinese imperial gem. As well Jade had a special signifcance, comparable with that of gold and diamonds in the West. Jade was used for the finest objects and figures and for grave furnishing for high ranking members of the imperial family.
The Jainist temple of Kolanpak in India houses a 5 foot scuplture of Mahavira (meaning Great Hero) that is carved entirely of jade. The largest sculpture made from a single piece of jade in the world.
In New Zealand Nephrite Jade plays an important role in Maori culture; is considered a treasure and therefor protected under treaty. Tools such as adzes, weapons called the ‘short club’ and ornaments such as neck pendants were made in jade and were considered heirlooms and handed down or given as gifts.
In pre-Columbian Mesoamerica Jade was rare and found mostly in Guatemala. Jade was carved in various ways, inscribed by hieroglyphs or shaped into symbolic figurines and were often used in rituals. First Nations people in BC used Jade for centuries as stone for axes, knives and other tools. Salish sites in BC’s Cariboo region has unearthed Jade tools dating back 4,000 years. Jade was carved out by glaciers are can be found naturally along riverbeds. Chinese labourers working on the railroads picked up chunks along the Fraser River and shipped it back to China in the coffins of dead labourers.
Nephrite Jade is the historical Chinese Jade or Stone of Heaven, valued by the Chinese for more than 5,000 years. Nephrite Jade is esteemed for its unique qualities — its extreme durability, (the toughest of any natural stone), its appealing transparency and its smooth touch. Colors of Nephrite Jade range from pure white or creamy white (known in China a mutton fat jade) to many shades of green – the more iron the greener the stone. Nephrite Jade is an exceedingly tough material to cut or mine as it is fibrous in structure, similar to a handful of human hair. Because of its fibrous make-up it cannot be cut with chisels, it has to be ground using very hard, sharp abrasives such as diamonds.
Nephrite Jade is used in sculptures and art work as well as jewellry. Because of its durability it has also been used in tiles.
Another type of Jade is called Jadeite which has been imported to China from Myanmar since the mid 1800’s. Jadeite has more colour variations such as blue, lavender and mauve, pink and emerald green. Jadeite can also be found in Guatemala. Gem quality Jadeite is extremely rare and thus extremely expensive. Only the wealthy can afford to buy Jadeite; a natural green bead necklace can sell for as much as $10 million.