How to spot fake jade

a jade cat

When shopping for baubles and finery in China, know that there are 2 types of jade in the market – hard jade and soft jade. Hard jade (known as jadeite) is worth more and usually used for jewellery, while the cheaper soft jade and agate are used for sculptures because they are easier to carve.

To spot a fake is simple – jade has four properties to look out for:


Temperature

Real jade has high thermal conductivity, so it will feel cool to the touch. Plastic and glass, popular counterfeit materials, feel warmer. If we’re splitting hairs, you’d need a basis for comparison, but observe how the jade piece is presented – if it’s warm like a pie under display case lights, it’s safe to assume it’s not real.

Sound

Real jade makes a lovely TINK sound when you strike it. The higher frequency of the TINK, the harder and better quality the jade.

Texture

Hold a piece of real jade up to a light. In the translucent parts, you should notice a snowflake texture. These are referred to as ‘jade flowers’. Over time, green jade worn next to the skin gets greener – told in Chinese storytelling as the flower blossoming – said to happen quickly if the wearer is in good health. By contrast, holding marble (another popular fake) and plastic up to a light would not reveal jade flowers, while holding up glass would likely present bubbles from the glass blowing process.

Hardness

Finally, real jade is hard. A diamond blade is required to cut it, so if you’re suspicious of a fake, scratch your jade against a piece of glass. A real jade would scratch up the glass surface, leaving itself unscathed.

This article was originally written in 2008 after visiting a jade factory in China. I’m skeptical about the ‘flowers blooming’ thing, but their notes on temperature, sound and hardness seem sensible in terms of science. Jade and agate are mineralogically different, but you might find the names tossed together – if you plan to buy, be mindful about what you want and ready to inspect your item before purchasing.