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Article: Nephrite


General Information about Nephrite

  • Nephrite is a mineral that belongs to the inosilicate group.
  • Its chemical formula is (Mg,Fe)(OH).
  • Nephrite has a monoclinic crystal system.
  • It is translucent to opaque and comes in various colors such as green, yellow, brown, white, gray, and black.
  • The hardness of nephrite on the Mohs scale is 6.0 to 6.5.

Uses and Characteristics of Nephrite

  • Nephrite is commonly used for carvings, beads, and cabochon cut gemstones.
  • It is one of the two minerals known as jade, with the other being jadeite.
  • Nephrite is mainly found in green colors but can also occur in other shades.
  • Western Canada is a major source of lapidary nephrite.
  • Nephrite jade has been historically used in China, New Zealand, North America, Europe, and Southeast Asia.

Other Names and Varieties of Nephrite

  • Nephrite has various synonyms and varieties, including axe-stone, B.C. jade, beilstein, kidney stone, lapis nephriticus, nephrit, nephrita, pounamu, New Zealand greenstone, spinach jade, and talcum nephriticus.
  • Tomb jade and grave jade refer to ancient burial nephrite pieces with specific textures.
  • Mutton fat jade and chicken bone jade describe different colors and opacities of nephrite.

History and Cultural Significance of Nephrite

  • Nephrite artifacts have been found in Neolithic and Chalcolithic cultures in Europe, particularly in Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia, Croatia, Poland, Sardinia, and Switzerland.
  • In ancient China, nephrite was sourced from the Ningshao area and Liaoning province for utilitarian and ceremonial objects.
  • Khotan in Xinjiang, China, became a significant source of nephrite, and tribute payments were made to the Chinese imperial court.
  • The historical Maritime Jade Road connected Southeast and East Asia, where nephrite jade was traded extensively by animist societies.
  • Nephrite jade holds cultural significance for the Māori people of New Zealand, known as pounamu, and is protected under the Treaty of Waitangi.

Nephrite in Māori Culture

  • Nephrite, known as pounamu in Māori, is considered a taonga (treasure) and plays a vital role in Māori culture.
  • It is used to create weapons, ornaments, and tools such as adzes.
  • Māori designs of jade jewelry, commonly called greenstone, are popular with tourists.
  • Ngāi Tahu, a Māori tribe, oversees the exploitation of pounamu and runs a certification scheme for New Zealand stone.
  • Nephrite holds mana (prestige) and is often passed down as valuable heirlooms or given as gifts for important agreements.

Nephrite Data Sources

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