I love Whitby Jet – it’s dark, gothic beauty has real character and stories to tell. Over the last 300 years, it has mainly been used for mourning jewellery, especially favoured by the Victorians. Whitby Jet was lightweight and easy to carve, so lent itself perfectly to making jewellery to memorialize lost loved ones. I often use recycled and reclaimed antique Whitby Jet beads for our vintage recycled bead earrings as Whitby Jet jewellery is a lovely thing to collect and wear. So, here’s a few things that are good to know if you want to do that…
What is Whitby Jet?
Whitby Jet is an organic material that is naturally formed from ancient fossilised wood such as the Monkey Puzzle & Chile Pine. Whitby Jet is also know as Black Amber and is 182 Million years old. It is formed when prehistoric wood gets washed up into a body of water and becomes covered by organic sediment. The pressure of the water and sediment over millions of years compacts the wood and slowly transforms it into what we know as Whitby Jet.
The layers of jet are usually trapped deep below the earth’s surface, in the layers of sedimentary rock, but, there are a few, rare places where those layers or seams of jet are found on or near the surface and Whitby is one of them. Jet is also found in small areas in Northern Spain, Poland, Ezurum in Turkey and in the USA in Utah, Colorada and New Mexico.
History of Whitby Jet
Whitby jet was discovered, mined and carved in Britain from the Neolithic period onwards and often appeared as beads and decorations, it was very popular with Romans in the Third centuary who felt it had magical protective & healing properties and used it for a variety of decorative objects, including hair pins.
Whitby Jet fell in and out of fashion, but it’s use continued, mainly as monks rosery beads. In 1808 a boat captain observed two men in Whitby hand carving beads and crosses from Whitby Jet. While the men, John Carter and Robert Jefferson, used files and handmade tools to work Whitby Jet, Captain Tremlett, had experience turning amber on a lathe to produce pieces, wondered if the same could be done with Whitby Jet.
With the help of a turner, Mathew Hill, they successfully lathed Whitby Jet, the Captain hired him as a jet turner and the first jet workshop in Whitby was started. The light-weight nature of Whitby jet and it’s sombre apperence combined with the sadly comon occurance of death meant that the production of mourning jewellery ensured that the industry grew. By 1850, there were more than 50 Jet workshops in Whitby, producing beads, mourning jewellery and other items & The Great Exhibition of 1851 presented Whitby Jet to the world.
In 1861 Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband died and she immersed herself in full, deep mourning, including Whitby Jet mourning jewellery. Immediately, Whitby jet became really fashionable, it was so popular that the demand for it rapidly out-stripped the limited supply that Whitby could produce.
At one point, Whitby Jet production meant work for over 1,400 people and produced an annual profit of over £100,000, which is approximately three million pounds by today’s standards.
As a result of the sky-rocketing demand, French Jet or Parisian Jet was developed to inexpensively re-produce the exclusive and expensive Whitby Jet, French Jet was Black glass and it allowed the mass-production of mourning jewllery. Whitby Jet & French Jet remained popular until the the 1920’s by which time it was mainly used as beads in flapper necklaces – the long waist-length necklaces worn by flapper girls during the roaring Twenties.
French jet jewellery coming onto the market, combined with cheaper imported Spanish jet, lead to the collapse of the industry by the mid-1900s.
Collecting & Identifying Whitby Jet.
In recent years Whitby Jet has enjoyed renewed interest and there are a number of Jet workshops in Whitby. There is also a strong interest in authentic antique Whitby Jet jewellery – and its substitutes.
When collecting jet it’s useful to know exactly what you’re buying, especially as antique Whitby Jet pieces can hold their value quite well, but, only if they are actually Whitby Jet. So the question is how do identify Whitby Jet.
Whitby Jet is a deep Black colour, it is light weight and warm-ish to the touch, it is shiney, glossy and smooth. The microstructure of Whitby Jet, resembles the original wood, and this can be seen under 120× or greater magnification. The detailing carved into the piece can help identify if it is genuine jet. Whitby Jet usually has shallow relief, simple carved details, such as straight carved lines, as it can shatter when the detailing is too fine. Whitby Jet will also either float or sink slowly when placed in water.
One great way to identify Whitby Jet is being to clearly identify when a piece is not Whitby Jet and what it might be.
Modern Plastic – will be very glossy, very light weight and it may have seams and creases from the pressing process. Pieces of imitation jet in plastic are often very intricate with very fine detailing – rarely seen in genuine Whitby Jet as it fractures when it is carved into very fine details.
Spanish (soft) Jet – quite a lot of soft jet was imported into the UK during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. However, as is was softer than Whitby Jet much of it has cracked and broken over the years and so it is rare to find it. Soft jet will have a cracked or crackled appearance.
Black glass – known as French Jet, Parisian Jet or Vauxhall Glass was commonly used as a Whitby Jet substitute during the peak of jet’s popularity. Glass feels heavy and cool to the touch and Whitby Jet is not, so if the piece is slightly weighty and cool to the touch it is French Jet (glass) not Whitby Jet. Also, if you carefully tap a piece of Whitby Jet against your teeth you’ll hear a soft tap, but if tap French jet or other glass beads against your teeth you’ll feel or hear a sharped, harder sound (please be very gentle).
Ebonite or Vulcanite (an early type of rubber) was also used as a Whitby Jet substitute and it looks and feels very similar to jet, but, it fades and loses its shine over time, so if you piece is not Jet Black and shiney (yes, this is where that phrase comes from) then it’s not Whitby Jet.
Anthracite (hard coal) is similar to Whitby Jet, and has been used to imitate it. When rubbed against unglazed porcelain, Anthracite will leave a Black mark and Whitby Jet will leave a chocolate Brown mark.
Bog Oak can be easily mistaken for Whitby Jet, but, Bog Oak has a visable wood grain when you look closely and the surface won’t be very polished, unlike the smooth, lustrous appearance of Whitby Jet.
Carved horn can be also look very similar in Whitby Jet. It also feels smooth and lightweight too. However, dyed horn, will appear slightly translucent along its edges when held up to the light.
Also, in some cases Whitby Jet off-cuts were mixed with glue and molded into jewellery but Whitby Jet is smooth and shiney, so if the piece is dulled, rough, mottled or fragmented in appearence, it is not solid Whitby jet.
Caring for Whitby Jet.
Whitby Jet is beautiful to collect and wear and keeping it looking lovely is easy. To clean Whitby Jet, simply wash carefully with warm water and a mild detergent, (don’t soak the piece in water), rinse with fresh water and pat dry with a soft towel and leave to air dry fully. Once it’s dry, give it a gentle wipe with a tiny amount baby oil on a piece of cotton wool, to bring back its high polish. Don’t forget to store your Whitby Jet jewellery separately from other items, so that it doesn’t get scratched or damaged.
Want to Know More About Whitby Jet?
I hope you find this information useful and it’s a good starting point for learning about Whitby Jet and if you’d like to find out more then this book is a great read.
Thank you, have a lovely day & enjoy!
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Keep it green for Halloween – your guide to an eco-friendly Halloween.
We’re big fans of Halloween and about to start decorating for it. It’s inspired me to think a bit about how we can keep Halloween green – I’m thinking eco, not purtid green!
It’s so easy to get caught up in the moment and want to create a great Hallowen experience, but, I’m that finding that simple is good, for my wellbeing (physical and emotional) and it’s less stress on the environment and my budget. So here are a few of the things we’re doing this year to create our happy Halloween!
One a year for once a year! After the first Halloween, that I decorated for, I found we could wash and re-use lots of the Plastic ‘disposable’ decorations and accessories, so we do this and we now have a wonderful collection of ‘mummified’ drinking straws and a cardboard Halloween cakestand that with a careful wipe down has lasted 5 years!
I now also have a rule where I only buy one new decoration or accessory and it must be re-usable. This year I bought a really awesome halloween spider web, which will be used again and again.
Halloween DIY. There are loads of fun things to make for Halloween, that can be eco-friendly.
The most obvious one is a carved Pumpkin. We carve ours the day before and then put it out on the doorstep (it’s nice and cool and helps keep it fresh). To keep everone safe please don’t use candles, use eco-friendly Solar powered LED tea lights. Once all the trick or treaters have been we take the pumpkin in, give it a quick wash down, to remove any grit and chop it up for soup – no waste!
You can make ‘mini pumpkins by drawing on tangerines with a non-toxic pen to make them look lie tiny pumpkins – sweet, eco-friendly and healthy!
Halloween bats are a must too; cut them out of Black craft paper & put them in groups on your doors and walls, they look fab, putting them up with bluetack means you can re-use these next year!
Make some spooky garlands, you can use leaves and cut out bats and again theses can be re-used next Halloween.
I hope these ideas inspire you to go a little green this halloween – mwwahahahaha!!
The Autumn is officially upon us! The nights are drawing in really fast now and as we lose the daylight, I find it challenging to maintain my mood. So as the temperature drops, the leaves turn Red and Gold and half-term approaches, I wanted to share a few of my favourite ways to embrace the Autumn and boost your mood over the next few weeks….
Get out and go for a walk. As the days shorten through October and November, here in Yorkshire, I like to try to make the most of the precious day light and get outside. Take time to absorb the beauty of Autumn and appreciate the soothing autumn colours whilst they are with us. – Seeking experiences that allow us to feel and express appreciation and gratitude are really great for our wellbeing. The fresh air and exercise will brighten your eyes and put a spring in your step too!
Be creative! While I’m out and about, I like to collect treasures, and often come home with pockets full of sticks, conkers and fallen leaves. If you find that you or a small family member brings things home, display them – make one of those lovely little displays that we so often droll over on Pinterest (but never quite get around to making)! You can take 10 mins and really create a pretty leaf garland or a dried foliage display – giving yourself a neat little sense of achievement into the bargain – good for our self-esteem & mood!
Turn the heat on. I really should live somewhere sub-tropical; however, my heart is in Yorkshire and the price I pay for living somewhere I love, is that it’s cold and damp. I try really hard not to turn the heating on until we really need it, wearing jumpers and scarves. But, having the heating on, even just a tiny bit, makes this time of year feel really cosy. Set your heating to come on for a short burst just before you get up, so you wake up to a lovely warm home and do the same for when you come home. If you want to wake up to a really sweet-smelling home put a few drops of essential oils on to a folded hanky or tissue and tuck it behind the radiator, as it warms it will release it’s fragrance. I like to use this organic, eco-friendly Orange essential oil room freshner ; it’s refreshing and comforting. A warm welcoming environment is a great mood booster.
Make your Christmas cake & mash. So, this one sounds slightly random, but stay with me! As the days draw in, my need to eat carbs skyrockets and from now until May I will mainly be eating Potatoes – my favourite food group! Also, as we all know, a great festive dinner is really about all the little extras, such as roast and mashed spuds, 100 different veggies and ALL the sauces. However, preping the endless list of food can be a real pain, so I try to do some of it ahead of time. During October I buy, prepare and freeze pigs in blankets, bacon rolls, Bread sauce & Cranberry sauce. I make extra mash when cooking and freeze it; all ready for December. I like to make my Christmas cake at half-term, it gives us something useful to do, other than hibernating and it means we have a calmer Christmas. So why not give yourself an extra Christmas present and unload some of the stress and work for a fab Yule-tide, by doing some of the prep in October. Delicious smells and a warm kitchen, coupled with a sense of achievement is a top mood booster. Delia Smith has an excellent set of Christmas recipes & timings; as an act of self-care, get a copy of her book!
Join in Halloween. We love Halloween in our house, but, so we don’t bankrupt ourselves we buy only one decoration each year, and store them carefully away afterwards to reuse. We now have good collection and add to it with homemade decorations (which we also reuse). Halloween can be as elaborate or simple as you like, but do join in, it’s a great way to meet your neighbours and join in with your local community and you don’t even have to take off your slippers or leave the house. So, grab a bowl-full of sweeties, stick a handful bats (cut them out of Black Sugar paper) to your front door, pop some eco-friendly solar powered LED jar lamp (DO NOT USE REAL CANDLES, there will be children about) in your carved pumpkin on the doorstep on October 31st and get ready to join in, meet the neighbours and feel part of something!
I hope you find my Autumn mood boosters helpful and have a great week!