Not only is the town of Whitby known for its Abbey perched high on its cliffs and the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ but also for Whitby Jet, a wonderfully distinctive gemstone found only along this stunningly rugged coastline.
So how often have you exclaimed “It’s jet black!” to describe an impenetrably dark object, without really knowing where the term comes from? What is “jet”?
Jet is fossilised wood, unusual for its hardness and purity, that has been formed from an ancient species of the monkey puzzle tree. When polished, Jet takes on a waxy lustre and has an intense opaque blackness.
Laid down in the Jurassic era some 175 – 185 million years ago, when these trees died and fell they would be swept into rivers during storms and often then into the sea where they would become waterlogged and sink to the bottom where they would be covered by mud and silt. The pressure of this and the water above flattened and compressed the wood into jet.
Jet formed in anaerobic saline conditions is stable and hard whilst that formed from trees that were not swept to the sea and were formed in freshwater and aerobic conditions is know as “soft” jet.
Soft jet is found in many places around the world, but hard jet can be found in only one locality, the North Yorkshire Moors National Park, where it most easily accessed in the cliffs around the seaside town of Whitby.
Jet has been collected and fashioned into ornaments and jewellery for thousands of years, with beads, belts, buttons and belt sliders discovered in Bronze Age burial sites. The Romans sited Jet workshops in nearby York, a town famous for it’s Roman history, and from there sent ornaments and jewellery to all the corners of the Roman Empire.
Through the Dark and Middle Ages Jet was primarily used in religious artefacts and it was not until Victorian times that it enjoyed a renaissance and was used once more for fine jewellery and ornaments.
Jet became associated with mourning in the Royal Court in the 1830’s, and the deaths of the Duke of Wellington in 1852 and Prince Albert in 1861 created a wide public demand for Jet mourning jewellery.
The peak of the Whitby Jet industry was in 1873, when 1,500 men were employed by 200 workshops to carve and fashion the gem stone. Its success was its downfall however, as the high demand and limited supply led to use of inferior soft Jet from other places. This tended to craze and crack soon after it was sold.
In common with all jewellery in The Bijoux Magpie’s collection, our Jet Jewellery is made only from guaranteed genuine hard Jet from Whitby itself.
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All your jewellery is beautifully presented and available with our complimentary full gift wrapping service Each presentation box is carefully hand wrapped in simple, contemporary white Kraft paper and finished with a sumptuous black, pink or red satin ribbon and a gift card with an envelope.
You can choose this option on the product page together with an option to add a personalised handwritten message to the gift card.