Jade: Imperial green gem of the East (Part 1) – mining the gem
Sonja McLachlan (UK)
In this, the first of a five-part series exploring the mineral Jade, I will explore the various locations around the world in which Jade is found and mined.
The world geography of jade mining
Imperial jade, in all the colours and forms in which it is found, has appealed to many Eastern cultures since early times. It has been extensively mined and collected across the ages by many different people. However, in 1863, it was finally realised that the name “Jade” was being applied to two different minerals: jadeite and nephrite.
Both jadeite and nephrite deposits are found in various places around the world. However, the jadeite mineral is much more rare than nephrite and, therefore, has a greater value to both the miner and collector.
Nephrite jade deposits have been found in Khotan and Yarkand in Turkestan in China. Khotan is a city oasis and located on the famous “Jade” or “Silk Road”. New Zealand jade or “Pounamu” is found only in river boulders on the South Island. Deposits are also found in the Swiss Alps at Salux, Val de Faller, Poschiaro and the Gottard Range. Nephrite jade has been found in British Columbia, Canada where it is surface-mined. Large-scale mining began in Canada in 1995 and currently approximately 100 tonnes a year are mined and sent to China. The finest jade found here is called “Polar Jade” and is especially translucent and green, which is rare in nephrite specimens.
The most valuable type of jadeite – “Imperial Jade” (so called because of its deep green colour and clarity) – is found in the mines of Hpakan in Myanmar, formerly Burma. The mined deposits there are largely exported to China, hence the name “Chinese jade” which is used to differentiate it from all other jade types. Jadeite deposits are also found in China with major carving centres found in Qingtian in Zhejiang Province and Shoushan in Fujian Province where carvers use the local stone.
Mexican Jade is found in deposits in Guatemala and Mexico where it was mined and used by the native Indians before the arrival of the Spanish in 1520. A major centre of jade production in Mexico today is San Cristóbal de Las Casas in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, which borders Guatemala. The rough material is obtained from the mountains around Chalchihuitín, some 70km north of San Cristóbal.
As recently as the early 1970s, jade was discovered in Russia, Kazakhstan and, soon after, the Polar Ural mountains at Pusyerka. The high quality jadeite found in the Urals has been held up in comparison with the Imperial Jade found in Myanmar. In 1992, jade was also discovered in Khakassia, near the Yenisey River, about 100km outside of the capital of Abakan in Siberia. The deposits found in the Lake Baikal area.
Jade continues to be a valuable and collectable commodity today and has had a major influence on the art history and culture of Asian and South American people. Its beauty and mystical appearance have resulted in it being shaped into many items, in many areas of the world.
In the next part of this series, I will take a look at the ways in which various people have created and used jade items for ornamental and decorative purposes.
Images courtesy Kirk Makepeace: www.jademine.com.