Bowenite vs Nephrite: What Are They, And What’s The Difference?

Bowenite and nephrite are similar in one very important way.

They both look like jade.

This makes them excellent imitations of the precious gemstone.

But, they’re semiprecious gems in their own right.

Bowenite vs Nephrite: What Are They, And What’s The Difference?

What is Bowenite?

Bowenite is a low-grade metamorphic rock made from the oxidation hydration process.

It’s the hardest of the serpentine minerals. 

The oldest known bowenite comes from deposits on the South Island in New Zealand.

But, the law protects from excessive use.

No one can use them without the express permission of the Maori people.

 There are other bowenite versions in the United States, China, and other countries.

Incredibly, their colors differ based on their location source:

Afghanistan is green

China is a light yellowish-green color

New Zealand’s bowenite is dark bluish-green

South Africa’s comes in banded shades of green

America’s bowenite is a dark green color.

What are Serpentine Minerals?

Bowenite belongs to the serpentine group of minerals.

This exclusive group categorizes approximately 20 minerals. 

The most famous serpentine mineral is asbestos.

They used it as a building material for many years.

Later, doctors discovered it causes cancer. Thankfully, asbestos is the only member of the serpentine group with this trait.

All others are fibrous and don’t pose a health risk.

How Do Serpentine Minerals Form?

Serpentine minerals occur in large formations.

This makes it exceptional for lapidary uses.

Artists use these structures to make beads and decorative carvings.

Some stones are translucent enough for jewelers to facet them.

These make for very affordable and beautiful jewelry.

Keep in mind, its low hardness means it scratches easily.

What is Nephrite?

Nephrite got his name because Ancient Grecians believed it cured kidney stones.

It’s a rock mostly made up of big, but brittle crystalline and microcrystalline minerals.

They are one or two rocks people consider the precious gemstone Jade.

The other one is jadeite.

Both are beautiful in color and very resistant to fractures.

Nephrite is in the calcium, magnesium, and iron range of minerals. 

Nephrite Jade is one of the oldest decorative stones on the planet. It’s a sacred stone in some cultures.

How are Nephrite and Bowenite Confused?

A misunderstanding stemming from the 18th century began everything.

Captain James Cook’s first visit to New Zealand is the source of the confusion.

During his historic meetings with the Maori men, he noticed they wore green amulets.

What he didn’t know was the stones were different but had the same name, greenstone.

The Maori version doesn’t describe the stone, only the color.

This is how the New Zealand varieties of bowenite and nephrite got the name jade.

Bowenite is not true Jade.

Neither is nephrite.

But, they both possess a lot of the stone’s characteristics.

The differences are very subtle.

One important characteristic is they’re easier to bleach.

This lets jade green colors adhere nicely to the stone.

To make it even more convincing, some dealers put synthetic resin into any cracks.

How Can You Tell Them Apart?

Many dealers sell nephrite and bowenite as jade.

They’re excellent imitations.

Only a gemologist and other similar experts can tell these stones apart.

They do this by measuring each stone’s specific gravity to get to the truth.

 They’re not as tough as Jade either.

This makes it easier to manipulate artistically. Bowenite and nephrite create many artistic objects, vases, sculptures, and necklaces.

What are the Differences Between Jade, Nephrite, and Bowenite?

Nephrite is a good substitute for jade. The truth is, it belongs to a different mineral group.

Nephrite minerals are in the amphibole group.

Their structure is what makes them different because of crystalline green stones.

They get their green color from the stone’s high chromium content. 

But, there are specimens ranging from yellow to greenish-gray.

Bowenite is the more popular serpentine variety. Its color makes it a favorite amongst dealers.

 But, there are several ways to tell the real Jade and the new Jade apart.

The most obvious indicator is the price. New Jade isn’t expensive.

Original real jade is also really tough.

It has a range of 6-7 on the Mohs hardness scale.

Regular metal objects can’t damage it. Serpentine minerals, on the other hand, are softer and lower on the Mohs hardness scale.

If you rub two pieces together, a white powder forms.  

What are Bowenite’s and Nephrites Uses?

Enthusiasts nowadays wear bowenite amulets or talismans.

Back in the day, this stone’s hardness made it perfect for ornaments, weapons, and tools for the Maori.

There are old deposits in China with elaborate designs and carvings.

But, there isn’t a high demand for bowenite anymore.

Its low price means that companies actually lose money from mining it.

Bowenite is the hardest member of the serpentine mineral family, with a 6 on the Mohs scale.

These qualities make good stones for pendants and earrings.

Rings aren’t a good idea unless they have protective settings.

Even then, enthusiasts should only wear them for special occasions.

Nephrite stone carvings have popular religious meaning.

People used them for thousands of years. They’re an integral part of Chinese history and culture.

It is one of the most affordable gemstones on the planet.

It’s also one of the oldest and most sacred. It has a history that goes back to the very origins of humankind.

What Are They Worth?

Value is a relative concept.

All gemstones have variance in value and it’s the same with nephrite.

Green nephrite is precious.

But, its value depends on the quality of the mineral itself.

The average price of a piece of nephrite Jade ranges from $100-$1,000 a pound.

Enthusiasts love nephrite jewelry because of its beautiful coloring.

They put them in pieces by themselves.

But, they also add them to various jewelry designs.

These include beaded bracelets, rings, earrings, and necklaces. They also make them into carvings.

 Some say gold is valuable, but Jade is priceless.

This gemstone has appeal, beauty, and high demand.

It’s inspired legends and art for centuries.

The desire for jade jewelry keeps growing, but true sources are scarce.

To keep up with the demand, gem traders and dealers are using stones from the serpentine family.

They call these stones, bowenite and nephrite, the new Jade.

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