Saturday, November 8, 2014

Antigua, Guatemala, is the jade center for Central America

The old capital of Guatemala, Antigua, is a beautiful Spanish colonial style town located in the Western Highlands. Tourists are attracted there by the thousands. It is also the center of the jade industry for there are valuable deposits of the rare jadeite-type of jade in the hinterland.

Jadeite is a pyroxene mineral, of ideal composition NaAlSi2O6, but with colouring metal ions replacing the Al. Usually it is green in colour, but can be white, mauve, emerald green etc. It is very tough, hardness 6 1/2 to 7 on Moh's scale, density 3.3, and microcrystalline like a quartzite. It will scratch nephrite jade, just. Roaming around town you will find street stalls offering cheap jade jewellery which is attractive for the tourist. Often it is a jadeite-albite rock having white patches of the feldspar, but looks quite nice. You have to go to lapidary/jewellery shops to see the valuable stuff, and pass the gun-toting armed guard on the way in.

The up-market jade jewellery is a combination of the best quality jade with diamonds, ruby and sapphire, emeralds and pearls so you need plenty of spare cash. A specialty is the reproduction of museum artifacts and death masks, the latter selling for a few thousand dollars. The carvings, and death masks which are replicas from mummies, are much sought after by well-heeled tourists from the US and Europe.

Click on foto to enlarge somewhat.

More details on Gautemalan jade are given in my Bootsnall article Jade at Antigua