Outback Gems of Australia - Australian Jade


Jade is the name given to two distinct minerals, Nephrite and Jadeite with similar physical properties. Nephrite is the tougher of the two minerals and one of the toughest mineral known due to its mesh of interlocking crystals. Nephrite is as strong as steel and its toughness lent the mineral to be prized for axe heads and knives by primitive people. It is more opaque than its relation and is found in colours from white, yellow, brown, to green or black. Jadeite is not as tough but it has a more translucent nature which in its purest form is colourless but also occurs as green, pink, mauve and purple. The intense green Jadeite being the most prized form. Nephrite was valued highly before Jadeite and even before Jadeite was discovered Nephrite was carved into intricate ornaments which were so valued that they were buried with their owners. 

Jade has been found and formed into items of tools, weapons and ornaments since Neolithic times in countries such as Russia, USA, Burma, New Zealand and Canada. Some cultures used the material for religious ceremonial ritual objects such as in the Aztecs, Mayan and Maoris. Other minerals have been used in its place but none have the strength and durability. Many inferior minerals are used in other countries and are sold as Jade due to it being such a desirable material.

Australian Jade 

Australia has one of the world’s largest deposits of relatively untouched Nephrite and as the other sources diminish around the globe Australia is now supplying other markets with their raw materials. Cowell, on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia has the largest jade mineral leases in Australia. It is also one of the world's largest known deposits with colours varying from light yellow green to the rarer intense black with black being the rarest and the hardest form. Due to the nature of the material Jade is ideal for carving into intricate shapes with thin sections strong enough to survive everyday use. 

Indigenous Australian use of Jade

There is no history of Jade use by the Australian Aborigines. It was first found as outcropping rocks found on pastoral leases in the middle of the 1970's in the Middleback Ranges of South Australia by the local landowner.