Visit any museum of pre-Columbian art and you will find plenty of carved jade pendants, figurines, and other ritual objects on display.
The Mistery of the Origins of Jade in Latin America
While jade has been in widespread use across Latin America for thousands of years, in recent times modern scientists were baffled as to where all the raw materials had come from, as they hadn’t found any large mines.
Then, in 2001, a group of geologists discovered the biggest jade deposit in the world in southern Guatemala, and suddenly the mystery of the origin of all that antique jade jewelry was solved.
The stones we use in jade pendants come from two different rocks: nephrite and jadeite. My favorite is the Jadeite as it is the harder and more scratch-resistant of the two.
A beautiful characteristic is that it comes in a wider variety of colors, including the brilliant blue favored by the Olmecs. Other colors of Guatemalan jadeite include shades of white, green, and black.
If you are looking for other Latin American designs with different stones and materials make sure you go to rose quartz jewelry for example, or simply look into handmade silver pendants where artisans use silver to set the stones or simply to make designs in the metal that render very special looks.
The Meaning of Handmade Jade Pendants
The Olmecs, Mayans, and Aztecs believed that jade symbolized eternal life and therefore it was the most precious thing on earth to them.
They valued it even more highly than gold and frequently used it in rituals and offerings to the gods.
The Olmecs associated blue jade with water, the underworld, and rejuvenation, while other cultures used green jade in fertility rituals.
Jade necklaces, earrings, burial masks, and figurines often accompanied nobles to the grave. Some people even had their teeth inlaid with bits of jade. The Maya also used jade for armor and weaponry.
Because jade is such a hard stone, ancient artisans had great difficulty carving and shaping the stones. Frequently they would actually use jade tools to carve other jade items, or else painstakingly wear down the material using abrasive powders and leather strops, strings, or hard reeds.
Believe it or not, it might have taken a whole day to carve even a simple bead from jadeite, making the finished products that much more valuable.
When the Spanish arrived in Latin America, they forced the indigenous people to focus on mining gold rather than jade, and so for nearly 500 years we lost the traditional techniques for mining and working in jade.
Today, jade jewelry is still prized for its beautiful natural colors and luster.
When you buy jade pendants, you will get a completely unique piece of jewelry because each stone has subtle variations in color and translucency. Plus, there are tons of different designs to choose from, from simple polished stones in gold or silver settings to elaborate carved pendants representing animals or sacred symbols.