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  • Susannah Gai

The best nephrite in the world


I was born in Newcastle, NSW and moved to Adelaide when I was 4 years old. So as far as i'm concerned, I'm South Australian. I love this state and the fact that it's home to the best deposit of black jade in the world.

We have so many beautiful things in SA, leafy sea dragons down at Rapid Bay, locally roasted DeGroot coffee and one of the most exceptionally beautiful beaches on my front doorstep. I was particularly chuffed when I discovered a piece of black jade in a night course I did with Murray Thompson. For some reason I connected with that gemstone more than any other I had cut previously.

So you can imagine my delight when I discovered we have the best deposit of black jade in the world hidden away in Cowell just a short drive from Adelaide. I personally think it simply isn't given enough exposure for the qualities it has. It polishes to a mirror polish and is extremely dense, making it very stable and therefore perfect for carving... if you have the patience.

Because it's a dense stone, it makes it hard to cut and carve and consequently takes twice as long to sand back and work to a high polish. Most people would rather carve something around 5-6 on the moh's scale, as the softer it is, the quicker you can work and polish it.

But that very reason made it far more attractive for me to carve, so I immersed myself in the craft of carving after cutting half my body weight in cabochons and wanting something more challenging.

I was lucky to have a teacher at TAFE that was a jade carver and was able to get some tips to point me in the right direction.

From that point I was the youngest employee taken on at Gemstone Corp of SA at 15 years old, designing and carving jade pendants for the tourist market. Sadly the Gem Corp didn't remain in business long enough for the project to launch formally. That forced me to re-evaluate my (very specific) career choice, so I expanded my horizons and secured a jewellery apprenticeship at 17.

Cowell Nephrite still one of my favourite materials to work with, but on the other hand, I have great appreciation for gems that don't wear out my diamond burrs so quickly.