Jade – travels in Myanmar

In January I headed to Myanmar (Burma) on an exciting buying trip. At the Jade market in Mandalay, it is fascinating to see all the different aspects of the Jade industry: stones being cut and polished, cabochons and bangles traded; beads, discs and carvings displayed for sale. An exciting hustle and bustle of life all revolving around this precious stone.

The photos above give a glimpse of the Jade Market. Clockwise from top: the cabochon trading area; a young lapidary polishing cabochons; here I am selecting stones for setting; choosing beads for my new collection; more lapidary work.

A brief history of Jade.

In prehistoric times, jade was used to make tools due to its exceptional toughness. Jade has been revered by the Chinese for over 2000 years. Believed to be the ‘Stone of Heaven’, it has been used profusely for mystic and symbolic carvings. In pre-Columbian central America, jade was more highly valued than gold. With the Spanish conquest, the high art of jade carving in America came to an end. However in China the craft continues to this day. For centuries jade was thought to be a single gemstone, but in 1863 two types were recognized: jadeite and nephrite. In 1784, Burmese jade (jadeite) started to be imported into China. Burmese jade was brighter and shinier than the Chinese jade (nephrite) due to its interlocked crystalline structure. This new discovery led the Chinese to extend the use of jade beyond that of rituals and religion and wear it as jewellery. Today Burmese jadeite is the most desirable gemstone in Asia.

Occurence.

Jadeite is found in metamorphic rocks and as alluvial pebbles and boulders. Some boulders develop a brown skin, due to weathering. The photograph below shows jade boulders at the market in Yangon.

Jade occurs in a wide variety of colours but the most highly prized is ‘imperial jade’ which is emerald-green due to the presence of chromium. I am more drawn to the subtle shades and was thrilled to find some beads in a fabulous deep-teal green in the market at Yangon. I have loved combining the various shades of green with other stones from my travels such as yellow calcite, pale amazonite, chrysoprase, apatite and freshwater pearls. I hope you like the new collection.

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