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The superior and much rarer of the two gemstones generally referred to as jade. It was recognized as a separate species and so named only in 1863. It is harder than nephrite, the other variety of jade, fractures more easily, and has a glossy appearance. It is varicoloured, often either white with streaks of emerald-green or green with streaks of lavender; but it is also occasionally found in intense hues of orange, yellow, brown, blue, violet, pink, and black.
The most valuable variety is translucent and emerald-green, called imperial jade or 'true jade'; the Chinese term is fei-ts'ui (kingfisher plumage).
Jadeite is normally found in fine-grained and compact masses, suitable for making intricate objects of vertu and for beads or stones but en cabochon. Its surface, when polished, has a slightly dimpled appearance. Jadeite was used by the Olmec and Maya Indians of Mexico from c. 1500 BC, but it was not known in China until imported there to be carved.
From: An Illustrated Dictionary of Jewelry, autor: Harold Newman, publishers: Thames and Hudson