These three words we often hear being used in reference to that beautiful stone we treasure and value so much, and we get often asked 'what is the actual difference?'. The three words, to an extend mean the same thing, however there is a difference in intention when we use the word pounamu.
Nephrite jade is the word used around the world as Nephrite jade is found not only in New Zealand but also Canada, Siberia, Australia and many other countries. It refers to the mineral composition of the stone and is specific.
Jadeite is commonly carved in China. Jadeite is very hard and dense and has a specific gravity of about 3.4. It is found in a wide range of colours, but is most often found in shades of green or white.
Jade varies in size, colour and silicate mineral amounts, these all determine whether the stone is Jadeite or Nephrite. Jadeite is a sodium-aluminium-silicate and Nephrite is a calcium-magnesium silicate. Although they differ in density, structures, hardness and composition, both types of stone are exceptionally tough and appear similar. Nephrite usually occurs in deep olive, creamy white and black colours. It has a smooth surface that can be polished to a waxy luster; its also more common than Jadeite. Jadeite can be found in shades of blue-green, orange, lavender, emerald green or black. It is harder than Nephrite and is usually harder to find.
Captain Cook is said to be the first person using the word Greenstone. When he reached the shores of Aotearoa New Zealand, he noticed that Māori were wearing a 'green stone' which they also used for tools and trading. He did not know what it was and called it Greenstone.
Pounamu is the collective word we use to describe the various types of New Zealand Nephrite, Bowenite and Serpentinite and is the traditional Te Reo Māori name. The word Pounamu means much more than just a reference to the stone, as it embodies the cultural and spiritual significance that Māori held and are still holding for the stone .