Malachite and jade are two highly popular stones that both have long uses throughout history.
While they both share similar colorations, they are significantly different, and it’s important to know how to differentiate them.
Malachite vs Jade: The Basics
What is Malachite?
Malachite is a copper carbonate hydroxide mineral that has been used throughout history for a variety of purposes.
Stretching back to ancient Egypt, malachite was first mined and made into copper, although it was also used as an ornamental and was associated with death and rebirth.
The Egyptians even referred to the afterlife as the ‘Field of Malachite’, where life would go on peacefully.
Similarly, malachite was also mined in Britain over 3,800 years ago using bone and stone tools.
Mining in Israel was also prevalent more than 3,000 years ago in the Timna Valley.
During the reign of Tsar Nicolas I, pieces made from malachite were some of the most popular diplomatic gifts of the time.
One of the largest malachite pieces in North America, ‘The Tazza’, a large ornamental bowl made from malachite, was even gifted by Tsar Nicolas II to the American Ambassador to Russia.
Today, this piece is considered to be one of the four most important pieces of malachite in the world.
Due to the softness of malachite, 3.5 to 4.0 on the Mohs scale, it has also been ground into powder and used as a color agent from antiquity up until the 19th century.
Malachite is known for its various rich green shades that can range from pastel green all the way to a deep green that can seem nearly black.
Although malachite forms in stalactite formations, when it is cut open, banding can be seen similar to the banding found in agate.
Malachite deposits can be found at relatively shallow depths above copper deposits in the oxidizing zone.
It can often be found in limestone due to limestone providing favorable conditions for the formation of carbonate minerals.
In terms of mining, one of the most expansive mining operations of malachite took place in the Ural mountains in Russian.
This was one of the highest producers of malachite throughout the 1800s. However, due to aggressive mining, little remains there now.
Today, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the largest producer of malachite.
However, Australia, France, and the United States have deposits as well.
What is Jade?
Technically speaking, there is not a single form of what we know as jade, but two.
Jadeite and Nephrite.
This distinction wasn’t officially noted until 1863 when Alexis Damour of France discovered differences between the two.
However, hundreds of years before this official realization, Chinese craftsmen noted similar differences in materials.
When working with jade from Burma, craftsmen realized that it was denser and harder, and came in more colors.
This led to them paying more for this type of jade, even though it hadn’t been officially recognized as a different mineral.
Today we know that this type of jade is actually jadeite, while the most common jade used in traditional Chinese craft at the time was nephrite.
Craftsmen also sometimes encountered what is called imperial jade.
This type of fine-grained jadeite is more uniform in color and has a bright translucence.
The color and transparency of this type of jadeite can even rival that of a fine emerald.
At this time, only the emperor was allowed to possess imperial jade.
While this stipulation has since been removed, allowing anyone to possess it, the best imperial jade can cost even more per carat than high-quality diamonds.
Jadeite is a sodium and aluminum-rich pyroxene, while nephrite is a magnesium and iron-rich amphibole.
The higher the iron content is in nephrite, the more green it appears.
Jadeite has a hardness of around 6.0 and 7.0 on the Mohs scale, making it roughly the same hardness as quartz.
Nephrite is slightly softer, only 6.0 to 6.5 on the Mohs scale.
This makes it more easily worked with quartz implements.
Although it is easier to work, it is also more durable and can resist breakage more easily than jadeite.
Jadeite can be found in a variety of green colors, and it can sometimes even appear to be purplish-blue, white, and black.
Similarly, nephrite can be found in similar colors, including yellow, brown, white, grey, black, and varying shades of green.
Although China is most closely linked with Jade, and it remains one of the most important producers, jade has been used in many cultures since prehistory.
Evidence of jade being used as tools, weapons, and ornamental objects has been found outside of Asia in Europe, Australia, the Americas, and various Pacific islands.
This falls in line with how the majority of jadeite and nephrite are formed.
Both jadeite and nephrite are created through metamorphism and are most commonly found in metamorphic rocks linked to subduction zones.
This means that most deposits of jadeite and nephrite can be found along ancient converging plate boundaries where the oceanic lithosphere was pushed beneath continents or volcanic islands.
Because of this, most of the deposits are located around the Pacific rim.
This accounts for a lot of the jade found in the Americas, East Asia, and New Zealand.
Malachite vs Jade: The Differences
While jade can exhibit some banding, the banding found in malachite is often much more pronounced.
Malachite is also much softer than both jadeite and nephrite, which can make it easier to differentiate.
Similarly, malachite is only found in varying shades of green, with some having only a slightly more yellow tinge.
Both jade varieties come in a variety of colors aside from green, making those instances of jade easier to spot.
When placed beside each other, it’s usually fairly easy to tell which is which.
What is most difficult to tell apart are the two types of jade.
Jadite vs Nephrite
Nephrite is the most commonly found instance of what we call jade.
It can be most easily told apart from jadeite due to its lower translucency and luster.
It is also softer and has a lower density than jadeite.
However, even knowing these differences, it can be difficult to tell the difference without mineral testing equipment.
There’s a reason these two minerals were thought to be the same for so long.
Two Historically Important Stones
Both Malachite and Jade have been important throughout antiquity into the modern-day.
While they can both share a rich green color, these stones are exceptionally different, and when you know what to look for they can be easily told apart.
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