Gemologist Guide to Identifying Jade

Jadeite is famous for its gem form, jade. It’s been used in ornamental carvings and jewelry throughout history and is highly coveted in Southeast Asia. Jade comes in a variety of qualities and these qualities will dictate the price and how vibrant the color is.

Jadeite isn’t the only form of jade; the amphibole mineral nephrite also has a gem form of jade. Jadeite is rarely represented in mineral collections because its rough form is not very appealing to specimen collectors. However, lapidary artists can turn a rough piece of jade into stunning jewelry and sculptures.


How to Identify Jadeite Through Testing

There are various ways to identify rocks, minerals, crystals, and gemstones, but we will use a method I learned while attending the Gemological Institute of America.  If you’ve learned a unique way to identify gems, please share it with us.

Let’s take a deeper look into how to identify jadeite like a pro.


Visual Inspection

The visual inspection starts with what form of jadeite you have.  The questions below are relatively easy to answer, but each type will have its own process for identifying them.


jade cabochon


Is it a cabochon? A cabochon should have a high polish with little to no pitting. How the cabochon looks will depend on the quality of jadeite you have in your possession. Low-quality will show white streaks or black streaks and the color will be a little washed out. High-quality jadeite will look like the image above, rich green color with no streaks, and ultra-high quality will have a vibrant glow when you look at it under incandescent light.


Is it faceted? Faceted jadeite is more commonly seen in bead form, also known as a briolette. Colors range from light to dark green and have a high polish. They sometimes look like shiny plastic from a distance.


jadeite rough


Is it a specimen? Jadeite is found in different forms. You’ll better identify these forms by looking at and inspecting this mineral over time. Here’s a list of characteristics jadeite displays when it’s a specimen.

  • Pale to dark green colors.
  • Cloudy white colors are often present.
  • Some specimens have white inclusions.


tumbled jade


Is it tumbled? Very common to find low-quality jadeite in tumbled form.  Again, it should have a medium to high polish with black streaks and a darker green color.


Physical Properties of Jadeite

Let’s take a look at the physical properties of jadeite. Knowing what to look for will help you more easily identify what you’re looking at.


Color: Light to Dark Green, Apple Green, Emerald Green, White, Gray, Cream Yellow – Occasionally mottled White and Light Green

Clarity / Transparency: Translucent to Opaque

Luster: Waxy, Pearly, Greasy – Polished material may be Vitreous

Cleavage: 1,2

Fracture: Splintery, Uneven


The Streak Test

This is a destructive test, so you need to ensure that you’re allowed to damage the specimen or stone if you choose to use this method.  Once you’ve developed robust knowledge in identifying rocks and minerals, you won’t use destructive tests.

A mineral streak test is when you scrape the stone against a harder surface to see what color remains. Jadeite produces a white streak.

Tumbled specimens are tested by scraping samples across a piece of ungalvanized porcelain, typically known as a streak plate.


Magnet Test

Jadeite is can show a moderate attraction to a magnet because it’s a silica mineral composed of sodium and calcium elements that hold magnetic properties. Interestingly, green jade can exhibit moderate to strong magnetic attraction because of its iron content.


Hardness Test

I don’t recommend actively testing the hardness of a stone because it’s destructive in nature and doesn’t really provide a definite answer to what type of stone it is.  That said, Jadeite has a hardness of 6.5 to 7 on the Mohs hardness scale.


Refractive Index Test

Determining the refractive index, or RI as it’s referred to by gemologists, for jadeite is relatively straightforward, but you’ll need a specific piece of test equipment and the RI fluid to go with it.  Before you place the stone on the refractometer, you want to make sure you have a flat, somewhat polished surface to take a reading.


Jadeite’s Refractive Index: 1.6 to 1.67


Each gemstone has its own RI, so discovering a sample’s RI can help you figure out what sort of stone it actually is.


Step 1 – Place a small bead of RI fluid on the metal surface of the refractometer near the back of the crystal hemicylinder (the window on which the stone will sit).

Step 2 – Place the stone facet face down on the fluid dot and slide it toward the middle of the hemicylinder crystal using your fingers.

Step 3 – Look through the viewer lens without magnification. Continue looking until you see the outline of a bubble, then look at the bottom of this bubble. Take the reading from there, rounding the decimal to the nearest hundredth.


Occasionally, you’ll run into the issue of not having a flat surface to work with.  In this instance, you’ll need to leave the top of the refractometer open and hold the rounded stone with your hand.  Hopefully, you’ll be able to pull a reading off of the gauge.


Birefringence Test

Consider testing the birefringence, as well. Birefringence is related to RI. While doing the birefringence test, you will turn the gemstone on the refractometer six times throughout the observation period and note the changes.

Perform a standard RI test. Instead of keeping the stone still, gradually turn it 180 degrees, making each separate turn about 30 degrees. At each 30-degree mark, take a new RI reading.

Subtract the lowest reading from the highest to find the stone’s birefringence. Round it to the nearest thousandth.


Birefringence: δ = 0.013 to 0.020


Single or Double Refraction

Jadeite has a double refraction.

The stone must be transparent for this test to be accurate and beneficial.  If the light won’t pass through the stone, then there is no way to test for single or double refraction.

Check for single or double refraction. Use this test on translucent and transparent stones. You can determine whether the stone is only singly refractive (SR) or doubly refractive (DR) to help identify it. Some stones can also be classified as aggregate (AGG).

Turn on the light of a polariscope and place the stone face down on the lower glass lens (polarizer). Look through the top lens (analyzer), turning the top lens until the area around the stone looks darkest. This is your starting point.

Turn the analyzer 360 degrees and watch how the light around the stone changes.

If the stone appears dark and stays dark, it is likely an SR. If the stone starts light and remains light, it is likely AGG. If the lightness or darkness of the stone changes, it is likely DR.


Checking The Diaphaneity

Diaphaneity refers to the mineral’s ability to transmit light. For instance, some minerals are transparent or translucent. A small amount of distortion might occur when they’re thick, but light will pass through them relatively freely.

Jadeite is translucent to opaque.


Finding The Specific Gravity

Every stone has its unique specific gravity, which helps us identify them. Specific gravity is one of the best properties to measure when identifying mineral specimens. Most minerals have a narrow range of specific gravity, so getting an accurate measurement can go a long way toward identification.

Specific gravity is a unitless number describing how heavy a mineral is compared to equal volumes of water. For example, if a mineral is three times as dense as water, it’ll have a specific gravity of three. This is useful because while two minerals might be the same size, they’ll each have a different specific gravity.

The larger the sample, the more precise the readings tend to be. Remember that this technique can only be used for single mineral or crystal masses. It will not work for minerals embedded in host rocks.


Jadeite’s Specific Gravity: 3.3 to 3.5


As helpful as specific gravity is for identifying minerals, amateurs are usually constrained by the need for more necessary tools for the job. However, one way to work around this is to hold the specimen and note how heavy or heft it feels compared to what you might expect a specimen of that size to weigh.

If you want to determine the specific gravity of your stone like a pro, you’ll need to invest in a higher-end scale.  This is the one gemologists use OHAUS Density Determination Kit.


Identifying Rocks and Minerals Like a Pro

Hopefully, you feel confident in your practice of identifying a piece of jadeite after reading and applying this guide.  You’ll be using the visual part of this guide the most, and you’ll get better as you interact with more gemstones.  Before you know it, you’ll be identifying stones like a gemologist.

Feel free to reach out if you encounter any issues or need clarification. I’ll do my best to assist you in the identification process.

Jerred Morris
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2 Responses

  1. I bought a big piece of jade about 20years ago .if I sent you a photo do you think you could recognise it?

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