|Alaska's state gem is the jade. Alaska has large deposits of this gemstone, including an entire mountain of jade on the Seward Peninsula. With its beauty and wide-ranging expressiveness, jade has held a special attraction for mankind for thousands of years. Since ancient times jade has been a gift to wish good health. The mystery and romantic intrigue of jade has endured for centuries. Today jade holds a prominent place in the world market of semi-precious stones. Jade comes in shades of green, brown, black, yellow, white and red, but only a quarter of the mined jade is considered gem quality and used in jewelry. Jade is also used in Alaska for bookends, clock faces, tabletops and plaques. |
Prior to English exploration in the late 1700's, native Inuits traded jade. The toughness of jade is remarkable. It has a strength greater than steel and was put to work by many early civilizations for axes, knives and weapons. The color of jade ranges from shades of green, to yellow, red, black, and white. Lavender jade is most rare and hence the most highly valued.
The term jade is generic; it actually refers to two minerals - Jadeite and Nephrite. Nephrite and jadeite were used from prehistoric periods for hardstone carving. Jadeite has about the same hardness as quartz, while nephrite is somewhat softer. Both nephrite and jadeite are tough, but jadeite is tougher than nephrite. It was not until the 19th century that a French mineralogist determined that "jade" was in fact two different materials.
Among the earliest known jade artifacts excavated from prehistoric sites are simple ornaments with bead, button, and tubular shapes. Additionally, jade was used for axe heads, knives, and other weapons, which can be delicately shaped. As metal-working technologies became available, the beauty of jade made it valuable for ornaments and decorative objects. Jadeite measures between 6.5 and 7.0 Mohs hardness, and Nephrite between 5.5 and 6.0 so it can be worked with quartz or garnet sand, and polished with bamboo or even ground jade.
Large deposits of Alaskan jade are found along the Seward Peninsula, particularly in Jade Creek and Jade Mountain in northwestern Alaska. Alaskan jade may also be found in parts of California and in British Columbia. In fact, although Alaskan jade is Alaska's state gem, British Columbia supplies most of the world's nephrite jade.
The quality of Alaskan nephrite varies greatly; the finest material is usually found in smooth, stream-rolled boulders. Many of these boulders are covered by a thin rind of brown material (a result of weathering) which must be removed to reveal the smooth green nephrite below. Only an expert in jade has a chance of identifying the difference between Alaskan jade and Chinese jade just by looking at it. Obtaining a definitive identification of either jade type requires a microscope, spectrograph and scientific tests. The amateur may try looking at the subtle variations in both the gem's sheen and surface texture to differentiate between Chinese jade and Alaskan jade, or try scratching it with a sharp instrument, and make an "educated guess." It is best to consult a professional jeweler for an expert opinion.
Symbolic energy and beauty, the traditional and the modern are combined in jade in a particularly harmonious way. And in gemstone therapy it is said that jade 'stimulates creativity and mental agility on the one hand, while also having a balancing and harmonizing effect.' So this beautiful gemstone brings us joy, vivacity and happiness all at the same time.