By Sarah Corbett
Jet is a minor gemstone which is derived from wood which has been subject to high pressure over millions of years. It is along with Amber one of two organic gem fossils.
Jet has been utilised in adornment since neolithic times. The earliest known object is a carving of a damsel fly larva originating in Germany. It is dated 10,000 BC.
In the UK jet was used to make during the bronze age and at various points in pre history.
The Romans considered Jet to be a magical material, it was frequently used in amulets. It was believed to be able to repel the evil eye.
Whitby; a coastal town in northern England is famed for its Deposits of Jet and the industry which grew around this natural resource.
By for the pinnacle of the fashion for jewels made from Whitby Jet was the Victorian era. Queen Victoria spent her life in Mourning following the death of her husband Albert. She dressed accordingly in black, and the fashion for mourning dress was very much the mode.
The first Jet workshops were opened in Whitby in 1808 and by 185 there were 50 workshops.
In 1851 demand for the raw material led to mining at Gripe Howe Farm. The high quality jet from Whitby was a limited resource and as such was highly desirable. The value of fine Whitby jet was 10 times higher than Jet which was mined in Spain.
The Victorians were very interested in practices associated with death, mourning and burials. Maybe partly as a social response the mourning of their monarch. Etiquette was key to acceptable behavior, and this was something which was especially important in relation to death. Black Jewellery and clothing were essential factors to ensure the correct mourning etiquette was observed. Therefore adornments of jet were considered suitable to wear, whilst due to the rarity of jet these adornments were also symbols of wealth and social standing.
Today pieces of Victorian Jet Jewellery are very rare and collectible.