“Jade” is the generic term describing two distinct stones: nephrite and jadeite. While the two are visually similar, they are different in mineralogical characteristics. Nephrite and jadeite are both white in their pure state, with all colors caused by inclusions of other minerals. Jadeite is the harder and denser of the two, with a richer, more brilliant range of colors. For these reasons and because of its scarcity, jadeite is the most precious and sought-after type of jade. Guatemalan jade is jadeite.
That jadeite in serious quantity and in a rainbow of natural colors (no heat treatments or other enhancements are used in the Guatemalan jadeite) is being mined in Guatemala comes as no surprise to researching geologists and archaeologists who have long believed that all the native Central American ancient cultures - Olmec, Toltec, Mixtec, Zapotec, Aztec, and Maya - got their jadeite from Guatemala. In Jades of Mesoamerica, author and jade expert Fred Ward has compiled exhaustive research on Guatemalan jadeite used in the ancient Maya culture. He writes that discoveries of jadeite in the Motagua Valley area of Guatemala (also known as the Motagua Fault Zone) confirm the country as the source for most if not all of the jadeite used by Mesoamericans for three thousand years.
There are some visual differences in the jadeites of Myanmar and Guatemala, the most obvious of which is color. Although some individual pieces of Guatemalan jadeite cannot be separated from their Burmese counterparts (particularly after they are worked into jewelry), the majority of materials have distinct color and often textural differences. For example, the intense and highly saturated Imperial green of Burmese jadeite is not often found in the Guatemalan material. This does not mean it doesn't exist in Guatemala, rather it simply means that at this time, ongoing exploration has failed to produce any sizeable quantity of this highly desirable color.
ANNA M. MILLER