The A B C Theory


In Hong Kong and Mainland China, jade is largely categorized under three different classes: A Class, B Class & C Class. People obviously think that A Class represents the top quality of jade and should be most expensive, while B Class and C Class should be lower in terms of quality and value. Only to a certain extent, this statement is true.

The “Classes” used here actually are just a set of definitions for three different types of jade or semi-jade textures that are chemically treated or not. A chemically-treated piece of jade of improved outlook seems to have its value increased especially if the consumer has no idea that it is treated. A piece of untreated and natural jadeite, which is called A Class, of the same colour density and transparency as those of B Class or C Class, is valued a lot more because of its naturalness and rareness.

Anything that is artificially treated to reach the same appearance, such as B Class and C Class jade, will command a much lower value if any to a true collector.

Jade pieces of exceptionally rare quality might be seen in auction house catalogs as they obviously belong to the most expensive categories.

But two pieces of natural jadeite of the same size can have one costing US$5 and the other US$500,000. It all depends on its naturalness, colour, and transparency. An opaque and deep green jadeite costs a lot less than a relatively lighter green but more transparent jadeite. The evenness of colour distribution and many other factors also determine the value of jade.

Although there is no absolute grading system for jade like there are for diamonds or gold, there are indeed three categories to define jade in order to help buyers distinguish what is “real” jade and what is “fake” jade.

A Class Jade – Natural and Untreated Jade

A piece of A Class jade can be worth US$5 or US$500,000, as the term “Class A” only tells you that the stone is natural or has not been chemically treated. What its value should be depends on the stone’s rareness, which is determined by its colour, transparency and craftsmanship.

A Class jade is not chemically treated at all, but a piece of raw stone must be treated in some ways to transform it into a piece of charming jewelry suitable for wearing. For example, a piece of raw jadeite might be “bathed” with acidic plum vinegar to remove the smears on the surface and then waxed to enhance its luster. Some jade pieces that are of exceptionally good quality can skip the waxing process after cutting and shining because its own natural luster is sufficient. All natural jadeite produces a kind of luster that is not seen in B Class and C Class jade.

B Class Jade – Chemical acid treated and resin filled

Strictly speaking, B Class jade cannot be called jadeite as its inherent structure is seriously damaged after being soaked and boiled in chemically used acids to remove its scars and unwanted colours. It is then filled with resin to achieve the wanted transparent effect. B Class jade becomes a piece of half jade half resin creature that can hardly be called jadeite anymore since the stone’s structure has been fundamentally altered or damaged. The colours of B Class jade can be called true colours as there is no dyeing involved, but the jadeite’s inter-locking crystaline structure is seriously destroyed.

C Class Jade – Dyed Jade

As simple as it is, C Class jade is chemically treated jade or a type of valueless stone dyed with green, purple or red colours to imitate the real jade. Class B+C means that the jade has first been treated with the chemical bath and resin filling process and then secondly dyed with artificial colours.

How to be a smart jade buyer?

Even a jade expert might not be able to tell by naked-eye whether a piece of jade is chemically treated or not without a laboratory test. But the few tips below might help you look carefully before you buy.

  • Tiny cracks on the surface – For B Class jade, some very tiny spider-web like cracks are normally seen on the surface as resin failed to completely fill up the damaged stone structure.
  • Blurred stone structure – Jadeite is known for its inter-locking crystaline structure which is easily seen on good quality jadeite of better transparency. Treated jadeite filled with resin might still be seen with good transparency, however the inter-locking crystaline stone structure might be blurred when viewed under a light.
  • Colour and Luster – Colours of either B Class or C Class jade appear to be unnatural, which also requires accumulated experience to distinguish as the writer herself also paid her “lessons” for being careless. Natural jadeite has a “glassy” luster that is shinier than imitations.
  • Know what you are buying – when you walk to a booth in the jade market in Hong Kong that sells a very green and transparent piece of jade for US$50, you should automatically know that it is either B, B+C or C. With purchases in decently looking jewelry shops that sell jadeite of higher prices, the safest way to guarantee that you pay for what you buy is to ask the shop to take the piece of jadeite to a trusted laboratory for testing before purchase.