Maya Jade-The revival of a gem revered by royalty! – Helen Serras-Herman

HelenWe were all inspired by Maya Jade-The revival of a gem revered by royalty!
Helen told the story of the Olmec, Maya, and Aztec civilizations, as she covered her recent trips to Mexico and Guatemala, where she visited archaeological sites, museums, galleries and a contemporary jade workshop.

Historically, Meso-american cultures, Mayan, Olmec, Aztec, Toltec, and Zapotec, regarded jadeite as their most precious material. Jadeite was a sacred stone of immense value and meaning, and was carved into religious and utilitarian objects as well as body adornments in the form of beads, intricate carvings, ear plugs and lip jewelry.

Replica of Tikal mask, Guatemala

Replica of Tikal mask, Guatemala

The most highly desired material to the Maya exhibited a rich green color similar to that of bright green grass. This bright green color was of such importance to this culture that the best material was reserved for royalty. The most desired material for the Olmec culture was the blue and gray spectrum, sometimes known as ‘Olmec Blue’ jadeite, which is today among some of the rarest in the world. The Maya treasured Jade more than Gold, centering their culture around jade’s utility, beauty and perceived power. The value of jade went beyond its material worth, because of its color, mirroring that of water and vegetation, it was symbolically associated with life and death and therefore possessed high religious and spiritual importance. The Maya placed jade beads in the mouth of the dead to capture the soul.

A short presentation of the similarities between The Olmec, Maya, and Aztec, three cultures all located in Mexico and Central America can be found at: Webinar Presentation



Jade sources were lost for the past 500 years, after the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs. The English word jade was derived from the Spanish term piedra de ijada or “loin stone”, from its reputed efficacy in curing ailments of the loins and kidneys.  Archaeologist Mary Lou Ridinger and Jay Ridinger re-discovered the lost jadeite jade mining locations in 1974. Ridinger also discovered many varieties of Central American jadeite that had never before been seen, such as lilac jade and a variety of jadeite with pyrite inclusions.

Helen dedicated the talk and her Maya Jade Jewelry collection to friends that made her take notice and fall in love with jade, jewelry historian and appraiser the late Anna Miller, photographer and gemologist Fred Ward, and archaeologist and Jade Maya Gallery owner Mary Lou Ridinger, who re-discovered the jade sources in Guatemala.

In Jades of Mesoamerica, author and jade expert Fred Ward has compiled exhaustive research on Guatemalan jadeite used in the ancient Maya culture. He wrote that discoveries of jadeite in the Motagua Valley area of Guatemala (also known as the Motagua Fault Zone) confirm the country as the source for most if not all of the jadeite used by Meso-americans for three thousand years.

“JADE” is a generic term which describes two different silicate rocks, sodium and aluminium rich Pyroxene is called “Jadeite”, while magnesium and iron rich Amphibole
is called “Nephrite”. Though superficially similar, they are quite different in terms of their mineralogical crystal matrix. Jade is very hard and durable, making it ideal for extremely detailed carvings and complex shapes. Although commonly thought as being green, jade comes in a rainbow of  colors. Jadeite is the harder and denser of the two rocks and possesses a richer, more brilliant range of colors. Nephrite is a carving quality stone,
that is rarely found in central America. See more at Jades S.A. Factory website at: Jade Maya Gallery website.

Jadeite measures between 6.0 and 7.0 Mohs hardness, and nephrite between 6.0 and 6.5, so it could be worked by the ancient Maya carvers with crushed garnet.

There are three primary sources for true jadeite jade – Clear Creek, California – Motagua River Valley, Guatemala – and Burma/Myanmar. Currently, it is illegal to export jadeite from Burma due to political issues and enforced bans. Nephrite occurs throughout the world and is particularly plentiful in British Columbia, Canada – Wyoming, USA – and throughout Europe and Asia.

Pure jade is white, it is mineral impurities (iron, chromium, cobalt and others) in the material which determine the color of the material. Jadeite’s color spectrum includes red-oranges, greens, blues, grays, white, purple, violet, lavender, black and variations of all of these.

The Maya Jade Collection is Helen’s newest work, celebrating Jadeite and thrilling those of us who had a chance to see and feel her jewelry pieces.


lavender jade carvings by Helen Serras-Herman

Celtic Symbol in Jade

Celtic Symbol in Jade

Visit Helen Serras-Herman website, and her Facebook page at Gem Art Center/ Helen Serras-Herman, to see her art and jewelry for yourself!

"Through Your Eyes" Maya jade

“Through Your Eyes” Maya Jade

The DCGIA Chapter sends a heart felt thanks out to Helen for sharing her jade passion with us.

Summary by Charlie Marts

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