Exotic Gems: Vol. 4 ... How to Identify, Evaluate & Select Jade & Abalone Pearls

Book Review by Eric J. Hoffman


   Renée Newman, International Jewelry Publications, 2016. 136 pp, 338 color photographs, softcover, 9 x 6 inches, $19.95.


   The latest in Renée Newman’s series of fascinating books on unusual gemstones, this volume tackles the difficult subject of jade. You might not think of jade as “exotic” but it is in fact two different stones, found all over the world, in almost every color, and is very commonly imitated, treated, enhanced, and faked. This book will help you pick your way through the jade minefield.

   Newman begins with a look at why jade was so highly valued by diverse cultures around the world, of which the Chinese were preeminent. She carefully explains the two true jades (nephrite and jadeite) as well as their less common confusing cousins: omphacite, kosmochlor, and maw-sit-sit. The long list of jade imitators is well covered and illustrated. Relevant gemological instruments are introduced and discussed. The average reader will have easy access to the basic ones, but don’t expect your local jeweler or appraiser to own the more advanced-- and therefore most useful-- instruments.

   While nephrite is thoroughly discussed and illustrated, clearly the book’s emphasis is on Burmese jadeite, the jade most commonly encountered in high-end jewelry. The quality factors for jadeite are well explained and illustrated. A major issue with jadeite is how to tell natural (Type A) color from polymer injected and dyed (B and C) imitators. It makes a huge difference in price, as well as durability, so Newman treats the subject extensively. While basic instruments can offer some help, the most reliable diagnostics require expensive lab instruments operated by trained technicians, a service you would have to hire out. Price factors are touched on here and there, but as jade is almost always sold by the piece rather than by weight, few generalities can be made.

   Jade sources and cultures are next described, with individual chapters for China, Burma, Guatemala, Canada (today’s top source of nephrite), and the several USA jade sources, including the fine black nephrite once found in Wyoming. One last chapter covers secondary locales: Russia (famous for nephrite cats-eyes), New Zealand (Maori jade), Taiwan, and more, even a discussion of Turkish “purple jadeite” (a very impure stone). The USA ban on importing Burmese jade (and rubies, too) is briefly discussed.

   An extra treat is a chapter on abalone pearls, a subject rarely written about. Newman covers what they are, where they are found, and how they are cultivated, as well as price factors and how to care for them. New Zealand Paua pearls are covered as well.

   As in Newman’s previous gemstone books the coverage is thorough and the writing clear. An odd distraction is the defective kerning (letter spacing) on many pages. The numerous photographs are exceedingly helpful but in a book this size must necessarily be small and so can not have the resolution one would find in an “appreciation” type book.

   If you have any interest at all in jade as a gemstone Renée Newman’s latest book is a must-have.


Copyright © 2016 by Eric J. Hoffman (Home Page)

Originally published in ASJRA Newsletter, April 2016