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A diamond cut is a key factor to consider when choosing your next piece of diamond jewelry.

By Chinwe, Chief Creative Officer

If you are looking for a distinctive and sophisticated black gemstone, look no further than jet jewelry. Crafted from lignite, a unique form of coal, jet has been used for centuries in the creation of exquisite adornments. This blog post will provide you with a concise introduction to jet jewelry, exploring its historical and cultural significance, as well as delving into its remarkable gemological features..

Brief Overview of Jet Jewelry

Jet jewelry is crafted from jet, a mineraloid distinguished by its amorphous structure rather than a crystalline one. Derived from wood that has undergone intense pressure over millions of years, jet typically showcases black or dark brown hues with a dull to vitreous luster and a smooth texture. The versatility of jet allows it to be cut, carved, polished, and even faceted into an array of shapes and sizes. From beads to pendants, earrings, rings, and brooches, jet jewelry spans a diverse range of forms.

Historical Significance and Cultural Relevance

The history of jet jewelry is both captivating and extensive, traversing various cultures and epochs. Ancient civilizations, including the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Celts, held a deep affinity for jet jewelry. Revered for its perceived magical and protective attributes, jet adorned individuals as amulets, talismans, and mourning jewelry. Jet reached its peak popularity in the Victorian era, especially after Queen Victoria wore a necklace of jet as part of her mourning dress for Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in 1857. Jet became a symbol of grief and mourning, and was widely used for jewelry, brooches, hair ornaments, and buttons. Jet was also fashionable for everyday wear, as it complemented the dark colors and fabrics of the Victorian clothing. Whitby, a town on the Yorkshire coast, became the center of jet production and trade in England, as it had abundant deposits of jet from its cliffs and shores. Whitby jet was renowned for its quality and craftsmanship, and was exported to Europe and America. volence.

Jet jewelry continued to be popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as it adapted to the changing styles and tastes of the time. Jet jewelry became more elaborate and intricate, featuring floral, geometric, and abstract designs inspired by the Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements. Jet was also combined with other materials, such as silver, gold, enamel, pearls, and diamonds, to create contrast and sparkle. Jet jewelry was worn by celebrities and royalty, such as Sarah Bernhardt, Lillie Langtry, Edward VII, and Alexandra of Denmmark.

In the 20th and 21st centuries jet jewelry experienced a revival, as it appealed to new generations of collectors and enthusiasts. Jet jewelry was rediscovered by fashion designers, celebrities, and musicians, who appreciated its versatility and uniqueness. Jet jewelry was also valued for its historical and cultural significance, as it reflected the social and artistic movements of its time. It is still being produced today by new jewelers who use traditional techniques or modern innovations to create stunning pieces of art.

Jet Jewellery

Properties and Characteristics

Classified as a type of lignite which is the lowest rank of coal, jet undergoes a transformative process over millions of years, originating from wood subjected to immense pressure. It exhibits a distinctive black hue; which may also showcase brown or brassy tones owing to pyrite inclusions. Possessing a silky luster and a smooth texture, jet lends itself well to cutting, carving, and polishing, allowing for the creation of diverse shapes and designs. While faceting is a rare occurrence, Jet is a relatively soft and lightweight gemstone, with a hardness of 2.5 to 4 on the Mohs scale and a specific gravity of 1.3. Jet has a conchoidal fracture and no cleavage. Jet is flammable and burns with the characteristic odor of coal. The lightweight and pliable nature of jet makes it an ideal material for jewelry making. Its versatility extends to harmonious combinations with other gemstones or metals, resulting in striking contrasts. Beyond its aesthetic allure, jet is reputed to harbor metaphysical properties believed to benefit the wearer. Often regarded as a stone of protection, purification, and psychic awareness, jet is thought to contribute to emotional balance, the release of negative energies, and the attraction of wealth and success. To test jet you simply rub it against unglazed porcelain, which will leave a brown streak. Jet can also be distinguished from other black gemstones by its warm touch and its ability to generate static electricity when rubbed. Jet jewelry is a beautiful and versatile choice for anyone who appreciates the elegance of black gems and the history behind them. Jet jewelry can be worn with any outfit and occasion, as well as mixed and matched with other gemstones. Jet jewelry is also affordable and durable, making it a great investment for your collection.

Styles of Jet Jewelry

A defining characteristic of jet jewelry lies in its remarkable capacity to be intricately carved into artistic and sculptural forms. Possessing a softness that allows for cutting with a knife or saw, jet can be polished to a luminous sheen. Jet artisans have crafted an array of jet jewelry, showcasing their skill through   

  • Figurines: Jet carvers have fashioned miniature sculptures depicting animals, people, flowers, and various motifs. Notable among these are the Whitby Jet chess pieces, portraying medieval characters and originating in Whitby, England, during the 19th century. 
  • Cameos: Jet carvers have also created cameos, relief portraits or scenes carved onto a flat surface. Jet cameos, typically black or dark brown, form a striking contrast against the lighter background of the shell or stone they adorn.
  • Pendants: Jet carvers have ventured into crafting pendants, ornamental pieces suspended from chains or cords.

Jet pendants range from simple discs to elaborate designs, encompassing crosses, hearts, stars, or initials. Notable examples include a Bronze Age jet necklace composed of beads arranged in a plate and spacer design, a medieval jet cross worn by monks and nuns as a religious symbol, a Georgian-era jet brooch featuring a crescent shape and faceted jet stones, and a Victorian-era jet pendant adorned with a carved portrait of Queen Victoria. Additionally, an Art Deco jet bracelet showcases geometric patterns and enamel.

Styles of Jet Jewelry

Jet jewelry transcends its historical roots to emerge as a vibrant contemporary fashion trend. Embraced by modern designers and artists appreciative of its distinctive qualities and historical resonance, jet jewelry showcases several current trends:

  • Mixing Jet with Other Materials: Jet jewelry seamlessly integrates with diverse materials, including metals, gemstones, pearls, or crystals, resulting in captivating contrasts. Examples include pairing jet beads with silver chains or clasps, accenting jet pendants with diamonds or rubies, and setting jet rings with turquoise or opal.
  • Updating Jet Styles: Modern styles and techniques, such as wire wrapping, engraving, or laser cutting, breathe new life into jet jewelry. From shaping jet earrings into hoops or studs to twisting or braiding jet bracelets, or layering jet necklaces in choker-style, the possibilities are vast.
  • Customizing Jet Pieces: Jet jewelry lends itself to customization, catering to individual preferences and tastes. Jet carvers can craft bespoke pieces based on customer requests, incorporating personalized elements like portraits, initials, or symbols. Jet jewelry can also be engraved with names, dates, or meaningful messages.

Jet with Other Gemstones and Materials

Jet, a versatile gemstone, harmonizes seamlessly with other gemstones and materials, resulting in stunning and distinctive jewelry pieces. The complementary or contrasting interplay of colors, textures, and shapes makes for visually captivating combinations. Some notable pairings of jet with other gemstones and materials include:

  • Jet and Coral: Both organic gemstones with a history dating back to ancient times, jet and coral offer a striking contrast in black and red hues, creating a dramatic effect in jewelry pieces like beads, pendants, brooches, or rings.
  • Jet and Amber: Fossilized organic materials, jet, and amber exude a warm and earthy appeal. The subtle contrast of black and yellow colors in jet and amber combinations achieves a harmonious effect, seen in jewelry items like necklaces, earrings, bracelets, or cufflinks.
  • Jet and Silver: Combining the sleek elegance of jet with the timeless allure of silver results in a balanced contrast of black and white tones. Jet and silver jewelry, including chains, clasps, settings, or accents, imparts a sophisticated and refined effect.

Crafting Jet Jewelry

Jet jewelry, with its rich history and enduring allure, can be crafted using both traditional methods of carving and shaping and modern techniques that introduce intricate designs and contemporary appeal.

Traditional Methods of Carving and Shaping Jet

A renowned source of jet, Whitby in Yorkshire, England, has been mining jet from cliffs and collecting it from beaches since the 18th century. Whitby jet, prized for its quality and purity, has been utilized to create a diverse array of jewelry, including beads, buttons, crosses, brooches, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, rings, and amulets.

In the traditional process, skilled craftsmen employ hand tools like knives, chisels, files, saws, and drills. The initial steps involve cutting the jet into rough shapes, followed by meticulous smoothing and polishing using sandpaper or pumice stone. Intricate patterns or figures are carved into the jet using fine tools and magnifying glasses, showcasing motifs like flowers, leaves, vines, grapes, birds, animals, stars, crescents, hearts, and initials.

These traditional jet carvers, often working in small workshops or at home with simple equipment and natural light, passed down their skills through generations. Notable figures in this lineage include John Carter, who established the first jet workshop in Whitby in 1808; William Lamb, known for elaborate carvings for royalty and nobility; and George Lambton, credited with inventing a machine for cutting jet into thin slices for mosaic work.

Modern Techniques and Technology in Jet Jewelry Making

While the traditional methods persist, modern innovations have made their mark on the craft of jet jewelry making, introducing new forms that resonate with contemporary tastes.

  • Laser Cutting: This technique employs a high-powered beam of light to precisely cut jet into intricate shapes and sizes. Laser cutting can achieve designs impossible by hand carving, producing smooth edges and surfaces without the need for additional polishing. Jet pendants, earrings, rings, cufflinks, and other accessories benefit from the precision and creativity enabled by laser cutting.

  • Electroplating: Involving the application of a thin layer of metal, such as gold, silver, or copper, electroplating enhances the appearance and durability of jet jewelry. It introduces color, shine, and protection, offering various finishes like antique, matte, or glossy. Electroplating can be applied to entire pieces or specific details, adding versatility and fashion-forward elements to jet jewelry.

  • 3D Printing: This cutting-edge technique utilizes a computer-controlled machine to deposit layers of resin or plastic, creating intricate three-dimensional objects. 3D printing allows for the crafting of complex shapes and structures that are challenging with other methods. Furthermore, it enables customization and personalization, letting users design their own models or incorporate images and text into jet jewelry. The result is unique, innovative pieces that reflect the wearer’s personality and preferences.

Caring for Jet Jewelry

Cleaning Jet Jewelry:

  • Use a soft cloth dampened with water or mild soap for cleaning.
  • Avoid harsh chemicals, abrasives, or ultrasonic cleaners to prevent damage to the delicate surface.
  • Gently wipe the jewelry and ensure thorough drying with another soft cloth.
  • Consider polishing with a small amount of olive oil or beeswax for added luster and scratch protection.

Proper Storage:

  • Keep jet jewelry separately from harder materials to prevent scratching.
  • Use a soft cloth, tissue paper, or a padded box/pouch for wrapping or storage.
  • Shield jet from heat, moisture, and sunlight to prevent potential cracking or fading.

Avoiding Common Pitfalls:

  • Refrain from exposing jet jewelry to perfume, hairspray, or cosmetics to prevent staining or dulling.
  • Avoid wearing during activities like household chores or gardening to prevent dirt or damage.
  • In case of damage, avoid DIY repairs to prevent further harm or loss of original material.
  • Seek professional assistance from a jeweler or antique jewelry restoration expert for repairs.

Buying Guide for Jet Jewelry

 Jet is a type of lignite, a form of coal, that is used as a gemstone. Unlike many gemstones, jet is not a mineral, but an organic material derived from wood that has changed under extreme pressure. If you are interested in buying jet jewelry, here are some factors to consider:
  • Color should be jet-black without brown or gray hues.
  • Look for a vitreous to resinous luster, indicating shine and gloss.
  • Natural cracks or inclusions are acceptable if they don’t affect durability or appearance.
  • With a hardness of 2.5 to 4 on the Mohs scale, handle with care to avoid scratches and impacts. 
  • Whitby or Santiago de Compostela jet is generally more valuable.
  • Finely carved or faceted pieces are more expensive than simpler, polished ones.
  • Larger or rarer jet jewelry tends to be more costly.

Identifying Genuine Jet from Imitations

While jet can be imitated by various materials, such as plastic, glass, ebony, vulcanite, or coal.  Here are some simple tests to tell if a piece of jet jewelry is genuine or not: –
  • Rub it: Jet has a low electrical conductivity, so if you rub it with a cloth or your hand, it will develop a slight static charge and attract small pieces of paper or dust.
  • Heat it: Jet has a low thermal conductivity, so if you hold it in your hand for a while, it will feel warm. If you heat it with a flame or a needle, it will give off the smell of burning coal.
  • Scratch it: Jet has a low hardness, so it can be easily scratched by a knife or a nail. If you scratch it lightly, it will leave a brown streak. If you scratch it harder, it will produce a black powder.
  • Compare it: Jet has a distinctive appearance and feel that can be compared to other materials. Jet is lighter than glass or ebony, darker than vulcanite or coal, and smoother than plastic.
Jet jewelry is a unique and fascinating way to accessorize your outfits and express your personality. If you are looking for something different and special to add to your jewelry collection, you should definitely try out jet jewelry. 
Victorian Jet Set Jewellery



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