Complete Guide To Whitby Jet

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What is Whitby Jet?

Whitby Jet is a type of gemstone that is renowned for its intense deep black colour and smooth, lustrous appearance that is achieved when it is polished. This made it a very popular choice during the Victorian times and was known as ‘black diamond’. Whitby Jet is also the origin of the term ‘jet black’. It is a form of fossilised wood that comes from the ancient Araucaria trees. These existed around 180 million years ago during the Jurassic period and are now found along the North Yorkshire Coast. Whitby Jet is very light in weight with a hardness of 3.5-4 on the Mohs scale making it perfect for jewellery. Although this beautiful gem is low on the hardness scale, Whitby Jet is extremely durable and will not crack which is ideal for everyday and occasion wear. 

Many people throughout history believe that Whitby Jet contained magical powers. When rubbed, Whitby Jet creates a static charge which can attract small materials like dust and little debris. A lack of scientific knowledge led these people to believe that this stone had magical properties. Therefore, Whitby Jet was worn for protection and to keep away from evil. In modern times, it is well known for its positive impact on the mind and body whilst bringing balance to the wearer’s life. It is also known to aid in improving wealth, love, and health. 

Our Whitby Jet Jewellery is a very popular souvenir when visiting the North Yorkshire coast but also as a compliment to an outfit or a gift for a loved one.

How is Whitby Jet Formed?

Whitby Jet originated during the Jurassic Era. In this period, dramatic weather events lead to flash flooding which caused major changes to the environment and sweeping debris. This wreckage was then swept out into the ocean including the Araucaria trees. These waterlogged trees sank into the seabed and over 186 million years went through the transformation resulting in Jet stone. This process involved the compression and fossilisation of the prehistoric wood. Due to being buried at the bottom of the ocean, the trees were sealed and protected from air, oxygen, and light. This created the perfect conditions for it to be formed as decomposition could not take place. 

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Where is Whitby Jet found?

Our Whitby Jet is handcrafted and locally sourced by our family team. Located in North Yorkshire, we are based alongside the Jurassic coast which is the main source for Whitby Jet. This gemstone is only found along the 7.5 miles of the North Yorkshire coastline which makes it very rare. Deposits of Whitby Jet are found amongst the rockpools on the local beaches after being dislodged from the cliffs during coastal erosion. In our jewellery workshops, we skilfully craft and refine these gemstones which are then incorporated into our jewellery. The making process includes, shaping, polishing and then setting the gemstone into the jewellery. 

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How to check if my Whitby Jet is real?

Yorkshire Jewellery Company uses locally sourced Whitby Jet that is handpicked to ensure that true Whitby Jet is used in our jewellery. Whitby Jet has a couple of different methods to detect whether or not it is real:

  • Whitby Jet should be warm to the touch, unlike black glass which will be cold. 
  • If a hot needle is pressed into the gemstone, it should smell as though it is burning coal. 
  • Whitby Jet is very durable so there should be no cracking or fading. 
  • When rubbed against a ceramic tile or unglazed porcelain Whitby Jet should leave a light brown streak. 

Whitby jet in history

The Bronze age

Whitby Jet has been found as early as the bronze age with jewellery being found in dug-up burials. The most famous discovery is a 4,000-year-old Poltalloch Jet Necklace found in a burial cist in Kilmartin Glen. Due to Whitby Jet being relatively soft, it was easy for people to carve with primitive tools.

Learn more about the Poltalloch Jet Necklace

The Roman era

The popularity of Whitby Jet increased into the Roman era. Artefacts have been found in Roman coffins which reveals the high status that someone had if they owned Whitby Jet. A wider range of jewellery was discovered compared to the Bronze Age. In addition to the typical beads, various small pieces such as earrings, rings, and hairpins were found. Archaeologists also discovered a workshop that was dedicated to crafting Whitby Jet jewellery when digging up an old railway station in York. 

Learn more about the discovered Whitby Jet workshop

The Vikings

When Vikings invaded Britain, they populated York and shared the same love of Whitby Jet the Romans had. The trading empire of the Vikings resulted in Whitby Jet being found in countries such as Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark. The jewellery of this time is more varied including pendants, amulets, beaded necklaces, rings, and items such as dice and counters. 

The Medieval Times

During Medieval times there were changes in the use of Whitby Jet. There were long periods of intense religious activity which is reflected in their jewellery. Whitby Jet was mainly used in the production of crosses and religious designs to use in jewellery and ornaments. Historians discovered a ‘witching post’ in Egton with a Whitby Jet cross pinned on the front. These posts were very valued and used to hold items that would protect the house from evil. The crosses were used for this due to the strong religious beliefs of the community and the thought of Whitby Jet holding magical powers. 

The Victorian Era

The Victorian times saw a rapid increase in trade. This was fuelled by the expansion of railways which brought in tourists and enabled Whitby Jet to be exported around the country. A wide range of jewellery was made in this era including necklaces, earrings, rings, brooches, crosses, buttons, and lots more. Queen Victoria had a strong love for Whitby Jet. After the passing of her husband Prince Albert, she only wore Whitby Jet during the period of mourning. This popularised the mourning fashion trend. This trend began to decline after low-quality Spanish Jet imports were used. These were prone to cracking and fading which made the industry less valuable. 

Victorian Jet mining

The surge in popularity and demand for Whitby Jet resulted in a scarcity of locally available materials, prompting the commencement of Whitby Jet mining. This emerging industry needed a higher volume and more reliable supply of Whitby Jet. Along the cliff face, much of the mining involved lowering miners over the edge using a makeshift rope harness. The mining involved the digging of tunnels called "drifts" into the soft hillside using picks. Once a drift was finished, miners would dig new tunnels, creating an intricate network of passages. To support the tunnels, stone pillars were used to hold up the walls. Environmental and health and safety concerns mean that Jet mining is now illegal. At Yorkshire Jewellery Company, we handpick all our Whitby jet from the North Yorkshire Coastline. 

Whitby Jet at Yorkshire Jewellery Company 

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At Yorkshire Jewellery Company we sell a range of Whitby Jet Jewellery including bangles, earrings, necklaces, and much more. Our handcrafted jewellery holds both historical significance and undeniable beauty making it the perfect gift. Explore our whole range of Whitby Jet jewellery online or in-store. 

View our whole range of Whitby Jet Jewellery 

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