The History of Jade: The Emperor’s Stone
Infographic presented by Electra Stone
In Chinese writing, it is no accident that the character for “emperor” looks almost identical to the character for “jade”.
In the West, precious gems such as diamonds or rubies were worn by high-ranking people as status symbols. However, in China, it is jade that has been a symbol of status, spirituality, purity, and health for over 9,000 years.
The Origins of Jade
Jade has been mined and worked in China since the Stone Age. In prehistoric sites, jade artifacts include simple ornaments with bead, button, and tubular shapes. It was also used for tools and weapons. Jade later became revered with special significance. Beautiful designs were used for carvings, decorations, ceremonies, furnishings, and jewelry for the Imperial families.
By 3,000 BC, jade became known as “yu” or the “royal gem”.
Xu Shen, from the Han Dynasty (206 BC to 221 AD), details the five virtues of jade in his work Shuowen Jiezi:
Benevolence for its lustre and brilliance.
Honesty for its translucent texture.
Wisdom for its tranquil and far-reaching tone.
Integrity and Bravery for it may be broken but cannot be twisted.
The most wealthy and influential members of society would be buried in jade suits. Extremely costly and taking years to assemble, the thread used to join the pieces of jade would be gold, silver, copper, silk, or other materials depending on the status of the person buried.
The first archaeological discoveries of these suits, of Prince Liu Sheng and Dou Wan of the Western Han dynasty, consisted of: 2498 pieces of jade and 2.5 lbs of gold wire.
The gemstone’s significance to Chinese culture cannot be understated. Entire kingdoms in China have started wars over particularly precious stones.
What is Jade?
Jade is different than other types of valuable gems or precious metals. In fact, the cultural term “jade” refers to two different and similar types of ornamental rocks, both made of different silicate minerals.
Nephrite jade was the very first of these materials discovered in China, and was the traditional jade used and carved since ancient times. Nephrite was so important that the traditional deposits in China are now all but depleted.
There is evidence that jadeite jade, coming primarily from Burma, began to be traded in China on a wider scale in the 14th century. It was harder, denser, and worked easier – it eventually became the form of the gemstone preferred by Chinese artisans and prized by the Chinese people.
Today, most jade traded in China is of the jadeite variety.
However, the country’s traditional nephrite jade is not forgotten. Every athlete’s medal, at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, was embedded with a piece of pure, natural-carved jade. The gold medal featured a rare form of white nephrite known as “mutton fat” jade.
The Value of Jade
Gold has a price; jade is priceless (Chinese proverb)
Jade is valued differently than other comparable gemstones or precious metals. Jade is not fungible like gold, and jade is not a single polished and cut crystal, such as in the case of diamonds or rubies.
Both jadeite and nephrite jade are stones formed of interlocking microcrystals. Jade comes in different shapes and sizes, and can have impurities or grains in the stone that define its character. This means each piece of jade is unique.
Professional craftsmen look at raw jade’s beauty, flaws, and spirit to determine what shall be carved from it. This potential ties into the price that people are willing to pay for it.
Jade jewelry and artwork are extremely important to China’s culture and history.
This is why buyers are willing to pay a steep price for the finest jade. What does the best jade sell for in China? It sells for the same price per carat as diamonds in the United States.
Ranked: The World’s Top Diamond Mining Countries, by Carats and Value
Who are the leaders in rough diamond production and how much is their diamond output worth?
Ranked: World Diamond Mining By Country, Carat, and Value
Only 22 countries in the world engage in rough diamond production—also known as uncut, raw or natural diamonds—mining for them from deposits within their territories.
This chart, by Sam Parker illustrates the leaders in rough diamond production by weight and value. It uses data from Kimberly Process (an international certification organization) along with estimates by Dr. Ashok Damarupurshad, a precious metals and diamond specialist in South Africa.
Rough Diamond Production, By Weight
Russia takes the top spot as the world’s largest rough diamond producer, mining close to 42 million carats in 2022, well ahead of its peers.
Russia’s large lead over second-place Botswana (24.8 million carats) and third-ranked Canada (16.2 million carats) indicates that the country’s diamond production is circumventing sanctions due to the difficulties in tracing a diamond’s origin.
Here’s a quick breakdown of rough diamond production in the world.
|5||🇿🇦 South Africa||9,660,233|
|10||🇸🇱 Sierra Leone||688,970|
|18||🇨🇮 Cote D'Ivoire||3,904|
|19||🇨🇬 Republic of Congo||3,534|
Note: South Africa’s figures are estimated.
As with most other resources, (oil, gold, uranium), rough diamond production is distributed unequally. The top 10 rough diamond producing countries by weight account for 99.2% of all rough diamonds mined in 2022.
Diamond Mining, by Country
However, higher carat mined doesn’t necessarily mean better value for the diamond. Other factors like the cut, color, and clarity also influence a diamond’s value.
Here’s a quick breakdown of diamond production by value (USD) in 2022.
|5||🇿🇦 South Africa||$1,538M|
|9||🇸🇱 Sierra Leone||$143M|
|19||🇨🇬 Republic of Congo||$0.20M|
|20||🇨🇮 Cote D'Ivoire||$0.16M|
Note: South Africa’s figures are estimated. Furthermore, numbers have been rounded and may not sum to the total.
Thus, even though Botswana only produced 59% of Russia’s diamond weight in 2022, it had a trade value of nearly $5 billion, approximately 1.5 times higher than Russia’s for the same year.
Another example is Angola, which is ranked 6th in diamond production, but 3rd in diamond value.
Both countries (as well as South Africa, Canada, and Namibia) produce gem-quality rough diamonds versus countries like Russia and the DRC whose diamonds are produced mainly for industrial use.
Which Regions Produce the Most Diamonds in 2022?
Unsurprisingly, Africa is the largest rough diamond producing region, accounting for 51% of output by weight, and 66% by value.
|Rank||Region||Share of Rough|
Diamond Production (%)
|Share of Rough
Diamond Value (%)
However diamond mining in Africa is a relatively recent phenomenon, fewer than 200 years old. Diamonds had been discovered—and prized—as far back as 2,000 years ago in India, later on spreading west to Egyptian pharaohs and the Roman Empire.
By the start of the 20th century, diamond production on a large scale took off: first in South Africa, and decades later in other African countries. In fact between 1889–1959, Africa produced 98% of the world’s diamonds.
And in the latter half of the 20th century, the term blood diamond evolved from diamonds mined in African conflict zones used to finance insurgency or crime.
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