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Jade is the term applied to ornamental gemstones made from either jadeite or nephrite. Highly valued for spiritual and decorative reasons, jade has been used in China and throughout Asia for more than 5000 years. It is currently one of the most affordable and beautiful components of modern jewelry making. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most commonly imitated. So, how can a savvy shopper tell the difference between a decent fake and the real deal? Follow the steps in the guide below.

Hold the piece in question up to the light. Dealers are unlikely to become offended by this gesture and if they are, be wary. Many fakes will contain air bubbles, rather than the veining that is common in authentic jade, and they are easily spotted when light shines through them.

Check for coolness. Hold the piece in you hand. Even in a warm environment, jade should feel cool to the touch. If you are unsure, clasp the jade piece in your closed hand until it has warmed to approximately the same temperature as your body. Then set the jade aside for 30 seconds. Touch it with the tip of your tongue. Real jade does not retain heat well and should feel very cool.

Do a scratch test, but only on pieces you already own. Use a rounded bit of metal, such as the end of a pair of blunt scissors or the post of an earring, and draw a line across the bottom of the jade piece. Press down gently--there is no need to try to plow into or jab the stone. Choose a non-visible area to perform the test as it may leave a permanent mark on the item. If you are able to easily scratch the stone, it is probably not authentic jade.

Run your finger nail over the surface of the piece. This is a bit like running pearls across your teeth, only less obvious. Your fingers can't feel the minuscule bumps in glass and your eye can't see them, but in fake jade, your fingernail will catch on every tiny surface flaw.

Listen to the pieces. Hold one jade bangle loosely in each hand. Bump them into each other. If the bangles are genuine jade, they will produce a lovely, chime like tone. Real jade pieces produce a sound with a slightly higher resonance than pieces made of plastic or glass, while fakes sound like marbles rattling in a jar or glasses clinking together in a toast.

Tip

Try to be subtle, particularly if you are in another country. Vendors and shopkeepers may become very offended if they think you are wrongly accusing them of trying to cheat you.

Warning

Do not perform a scratch test on display pieces. If you damage the merchandise, you'll have to pay for it.

Nephrite jade can be damaged in a scratch test if you press too hard. It is less expensive, more common, and a lot softer than jadeite, but it is still real jade.

About the Author

Lisa Parris

Lisa Parris is a writer and former features editor of "The Caldwell County News." Her work has also appeared in the "Journal of Comparative Parasitology," "The Monterey County Herald" and "The Richmond Daily News." In 2012, Parris was honored with awards from the Missouri Press Association for best feature story, best feature series and best humor series.