Formed by intensive heat and pressure some 10km deep within the earth under the Southern Alps, New Zealand nephrite jade (also known as pounamu and greenstone) was forced to the surface by the movement of Pacific and Australian Tectonic Plates over many thousands of years.

Jade lenses would have been swept down from the mountains beneath glaciers and carried by huge ice sheets in ancient times ending up deposited in rivers. This ‘alluvial float’ jade is usually discovered on or near the coast, often after heavy rain floods the mountainous rivers and streams, loosening boulders and carrying them towards the sea.

With a specific gravity of three, pounamu boulders become a third lighter in water and are more easily moved.

Though the jade fields here are small, some of the finest nephrite jade in the world is to be found in New Zealand. In the late 90s the New Zealand government vested ownership of pounamu to the South Island tribe of Ngai Tahu when it passed the Ngai Tahu (Pounamu Vesting) Act 1997. Under the Waitangi Tribunal settlement, ownership of all pounamu occurring in its natural state in Ngai Tahu’s tribal area, including the coastline, was vested in Ngai Tahu.

Since 1997 no significant source of New Zealand nephrite has been available due to the fact that Ngai Tahu have not yet begun mining the resource nor made any existing stocks available for sale to businesses or carvers dependent on jade for a living.

As a result of this, New Zealand nephrite is priced above its counterparts from Canada and Australia. Without a supply, the demand will continue to increase the value of New Zealand nephrite as it is becoming increasingly rare. More about Author