News & Insights

Blog: Jet Jewellery

12th December 2019.

Jet jewellery is timeless, elegant and wearable. Stark black, jet creates an impact whilst suiting all skin tones, and as it can be worn with any colour of clothing it is a useful and versatile option.

Jet is organic; it is a variety of lignite formed after the remains of trees became immersed in stagnant water and were compacted and fossilised over millions of years. Indeed, fossils of prehistoric creatures can sometimes be found in jet, as can inclusions of minerals such as pyrite.

Opaque black or dark brown, jet is dull and rough when in its natural state but can be cut and polished to a high shine making it ideal for jewellery. Relatively soft, jet can also be easily and finely carved.

Whilst jet has been found in deposits scattered across the globe from Spain to China, Turkey, Siberia and the US, the most famous historical source of jet comes from Whitby on the North Yorkshire coast. Occurring in seams of shale in the cliffs along a two-mile stretch of coast between Robin Hood’s Bay and Boulby, Whitby jet was mined on a large scale in the 19th century and is the source of much period jewellery.

Jet has long been prized by man; it has been found in Neolithic burial mounds with other valued or revered items and is thought to have been mined since 1400BC. Whilst jet was used during the Bronze and Iron Age, it wasn’t until the Roman occupation of Britain that it began to be harvested and worked on a larger scale. The Romans transported jet from Whitby to York, where it was carved and turned into jewellery and amulets designed to protect the wearer from the ‘evil eye’.

During the middle of the 19th century jet soared to popularity. In 1851 Whitby jet was displayed at the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace in London, where it was seen by influential tastemakers. Jet became coveted by the likes of the Empress of France and most significantly Queen Victoria. When Prince Albert died in 1861, Queen Victoria took to wearing jet in remembrance of him and it became the only jewellery to be worn at Court. Following Royal example, jet jewellery soon became very fashionable, especially for mourning jewellery so beloved by the Victorians.

Whitby, too, became fashionable during the Victorian era. With the advent of the railways, Whitby had become a popular holiday destination for the monied classes. Whitby jet soon became a favourite holiday souvenir, with jewellery shops springing up to cater to demand.

Since the Victorian era, the popularity of jet jewellery has fluctuated in and out of fashion; however, it remains a classic choice. Whether you are looking for a carved Victorian brooch, a string of glittering 1920s faceted beads or a piece of contemporary gold-mounted polished jet jewellery, auctions are the ideal place to buy affordable examples.

The Jewellery, Watches & Silver Sale on 11th January 2020 will include a good selection of jet jewellery.

View Sale Details

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