Jade: The Royal Gem of Ancient China, Thailand and South East Asia
The Chinese, Thai and Asian fascination with jade can be dated as far back as the 18th Century BC during the great Shang Dynasty, and it has long been adopted as a national gem influencing decorative art during almost all periods of recorded Chinese history, up until present day. Many people from Thailand are of Chinese decent and Jade is held in very high regards amongst Thai people as well.
A Brief History
In the first Chinese dictionary jade was simply described as 'beautiful stones' and whilst archaeologists have found jade used in objects in the Neolithic period of Chinese history, (around 5000 BD), it was during the Shang Dynasty, beginning in 1600 BC, where jade exploded into Chinese culture and became prominent in both everyday life and in spectacular ceremonial objects. Jade's popularity filtered down from decorating royalty to the higher classes, and eventually becoming the choice gem of decoration and ornament for just about anyone who could afford it.
When the Book of Songs was written during the Zhou dynasty (around 200 BC) jade had grown yet further in stature and was even considered to help achieve eternal life, used in burial ceremonies and to decorate burial sites.
Later Chinese definitions of jade classed the stone as having five blessed virtues; charity, righteousness, wisdom, equity and courage. But the perception of jade changed somewhat during the Qing Dynasty (1271 to 1368) when the importation of jade from Myanmar (then Burma), began. Pervious to this only nephrite jade had been found in China and the new jadeite brought in to the country further boosted jade's popularity in everyday use, decoration and art. But through this popularity jade was seen as a slightly less magical object, used far less commonly at funerals and religious ceremonies, but admired much more for its natural beauty.
Jade is actually the term given to forms of jadeite and nephrite, and although jadeite is generally more valuable due to its somewhat more intense color, it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between the two. When evaluating jade, its color, translucency and texture are all taken into factor. The most valuable jade comes from Myanmar, which borders China, Thailand and Laos. The Burmese Jade is commonly known as 'imperial jade' in the gem trade and it has a very translucent, emerald-green appearance. Although green is the most common color though of when referring to jade, its colors can range in abundance of shades -- from light creamy greens to much darker tones; even in greyish, white, pink, purple, yellow and black colors.
Jade is the toughest of all precious stones, although it only registers a 6 1/2-7 on the Mohs scale of hardness. It's toughness is not due to its hardness, but rather its composition and crystal structure. Considering the durability and the smooth green texture of this remarkable stone, it's very easy to see why jade has remained so popular throughout history within decorative cultures, for jewellery and even ornamental carving -- especially in China, Thailand and South East Asia.
Commonly being known as 'The Royal Gem', Jade has always been a very special stone to the Thai-Chinese, not just in art and commercial use, but in religious and ceremonial life as well. Many believe that this magical gem holds a link between the physical and spiritual worlds, encompassing the yin and the yang, as well as the heavens and the earth.
Though Jade mines in China have long been depleted, the admiration and fondness for the stone remains, and although Jade is prized by several other nations and cultures,none can match the rich and diverse uses and inspiring ways in which jade has been utilised in amongst Chinese and Thai cultures -- The most elegant jade jewelry designs are made from rings, necklaces, pendants, broaches and extravagant earrings and bracelets.