‘Ice’ Jade—New or Not?

While the variety name “ice” jade won’t be found in gem books on jadeite jade, you soon will be hearing it in professional circles in China, says Don Kay, jade expert and owner of Mason-Kay in Denver. “A few years ago, before very fine material was available, jade that was essentially colorless, as well as translucent, was called ‘water’ jade and was relatively cheap—about the same price range as very commercial green jade.”

But then something happened.

According to Kay, about five or six years ago, extremely fine examples of water jade appeared in the market. “These jades were not only colorless but exhibited a very compact crystal structure that gave the stone an unprecedented translucence,” Kay says. In fact, the stones grade out as “transparent” to “very transparent,” a 1 or 2 in the six-grade scale introduced by Ou Yang, Chiu Mei in her book Jadeite Jade, a Stone and a Culture. (She uses the term “glassy.”)

But the term “water jade” was not “sexy enough” for auction houses like Christie’s, says Kay, so the term “crystal” was coined. But those in the know use the term “ice” jade, so “crystal” is out, and “ice” is in.

” ‘Water’ is used for grayish, maybe spotty, colorless jade that exhibits some translucence,” notes Kay. ” ‘Crystal’ refers to the best water jade, and ‘ice’ jade is the best of the best.” He reiterates, however, that this nomenclature is “still highly subjective, and by no means standardized.”

Meanwhile, prices for this jade variety have skyrocketed in China. Kay was told that a strand of ice jade beads recently sold for $10,000, and bangles are appearing in catalogs at “unheard of reserves.”