Jade is the generic term for two types of minerals which are Jadeite and Nephrite. These two are distinctly different in their composition, density, fluorescence also in their hardness as well as their locality.

Jade is derived from the Spanish IJADA, which refers to the KIDNEY. LAPIS NEPHRITICUS or Kidney Stone, is the Latin term for Nephrite.

Jadeite is the more precious and valuable of the two jades. The vivid emerald green jadeite is also known as Imperial Jadeite. Imperial Jadeite is only found in two places, Guatemala and Burma.

Jade in ancient Mexico, especially among the Nahuatl speakers, was known as Chalchihuith and it was held in the highest esteem and reverence just as the Chinese did with Jade. A goddess was named after it, Chalchiuhtlicue (from chālchihuitl "jade" y cuēitl "skirt", "She with the Skirt of Jade"). She represented Mother Earth. The Chinese too named a major God The Jade Emperor.

Native Mesoamericans used jade to protect themselves from all diseases especially those afflicting the sides or kidneys.

It was also put on children for the same purpose, to protect them from any harm and accidents.

Jade was placed on the dead because it was believed that Jade represented immortality. Just like gold, it does deteriorate. Ancient Mayans and Mexicans made death masks out of jade, and covered their dead from head to toe with beads and rings and even surrounded the dead body with jade sacred objects in the belief that Jade would keep them from decaying.

Chinese called Jade "Yu" which means royal gem. It represented immense goodness, virtues, morality and integrity, divinity, wisdom of all precious stones encompassing into this one precious gemstone.

Chinese believed that drinking powdered jade conferred immortality and they too placed jade pieces on and around the corpse to prevent decaying. This is so amazing because these two cultures held the same belief about the magic quality of this precious stone even while they were thousands of miles apart.

Nephrite produces a clear crisp resonance when struck. Perhaps this is the reason why Chinese poets often extols its beauty and elegance.
Nephrite jade has also been made into chimes and musical instruments.

Jade symbolizes enduring love, longevity, prosperity and good health. It was used to decorate the holy altars of the most sacred temples, both in China and in Mesoamerica (which includes Central Mexico and Central America).

The yellow jade in ancient China decorated the altar of earth. The white jade was used during lunar festivals.

Though we might think that Jade, especially Nephrite was only known in China and Mesoamerica, there is evidence to suggest that ancient Egypt also knew of it and used it the same way as these two most ancient civilizations. They often used green nephrite to represent the afterlife as well as lush vegetation.

Moreover, Pliny, the Elder, also mentioned the Adadu-nephros or the Kidney of Adonis, which is identified with jade.

The Maori people of New Zealand also knew and had used the sacred jade. They called jade Punamu. One variety of Punamu was called Kawakawa; another which was more whitish and more precious to them was called Kahurangi. Greyish jade was known to them as Inanga.

The Maori, just as the Mesoamericans, also made tools, weapons and ornaments from jade due to its durability. Their most sacred amulet, the Hei Tiki which was never parted from the wearer was made from jade that was specially given away as inheritance for each family. Some of these personal heirlooms would be buried with them at the time of death. They believed that their ancestral spirits lived within the stone.

Rare jade artifacts were also found in Papua New Guinea. They had used jadeite to decorate their weapons and sacred objects.

Note, the Iona Jade is the green type of Nephrite.