8 August 2013

Jet is the New Black

Here at Grays we do a lot of exciting loans. Our objects may travel from French Elle Magazine to Russian Vogue for styling, photo shoots and more. But there’s one particular loan that lately captured our imagination. It also reminded us of something we already knew: that you get a totally different sense and appreciation of objects once you start handling them or you get a closer look at them.

My theme is jet. Organising, cataloguing and packing the jet jewellery for a photo shoot made us aware of jet as more than a decorative, aesthetic piece. Jet as a geological material is considered to be a minor gemstone. Jet is of organic origin derived from decaying wood under extreme pressure containing pyrite inclusions which give it its brilliant lustre. Hair pins, rings, necklaces, pendants and bracelets have been created from jet, including amulets and rosary beads.  Pliny the Elder writes about jet and it is well documented that in the Roman period jet was thought of as a ‘magical’ and ‘protective’ material. Later on jet is used in Abbeys and Monasteries to make rings, beads and crosses for the Monks. But it is both the material qualities and its manufacture into jewellery that makes jet so alluring. 

In fact its warm tactile quality seems to transmit something of its special history, original location and elaborate manufacturing process. Jet takes great expertise in carving because although soft it can easily fracture, therefore, it requires a lengthy apprenticeship and dedicated workmanship. Jet is a rare gemstone as it can only be found in certain areas of England and Germany.

Whitby in Yorkshire has, famously, been producing jet jewellery since the Bronze Age. It came into prominence again in the Victorian period when jet was mostly associated with mourning jewellery. Whitby jet has been found all over Europe, from the early Bronze Age to today, in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Italy and Spain. The early 1800s saw a meteoric rise in jet production in Whitby, where all sorts of shops and workshops dedicated to the manufacture and trade of jet jewellery sprang up well before the death of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria chose it as her favourite decorative gemstone. By the end of the 19th century trade had much declined. But even today Whitby jet carries with it the special magic of its original production and aesthetic quality.

A view of the Whitby Harbour

Whitby Jet Heritage

Jet Necklace offered by Allison Massey

Jet Souvenir from Whitby offered by Allison Massey

Large Victorian Jet Brooch with unusual carved ribbon design and branch border offered by Allison Massey

Victorian Whitby Jet Necklace offered by Aurum

Victorian Jet Bracelet from Allison Massey.

Carved Jet Victorian Bead Necklace offered by The Antique Jewellery Company.

Victorian Jet Locket with cross offered by Spectrum.

Victorian carved jet earrings with an unusual faceted central design offered by Allison Massey.

French Jet Glass Hair Clip offered by Allison Massey

Jet Earrings with miniature painting of Eros offered by Allison Massey

Jet Brooch with Mother of Pearl offered by Allison Massey

A large Victorian Jet Locket offered by The Antique Jewellery Company. It is completely plain on one side and the other has a silver and glass locket section with a lock of hair.


Written by Titika Malkogeorgou

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