A Guide To Jet Jewellery
There are few stones in the world quite as unusual in their properties and appearance as jet.
Whilst considered a gemstone, jet is actually derived from lignite, the world’s lowest rank of coal. Despite these surprising foundations, jet can be worked into a mesmerising, lustrous stone for use in a range of jewellery pieces.
Once an incredibly popular choice of gemstone (and the origin of the commonly used term ‘jet black’), the use of jet in jewellery has diminished somewhat in recent years.
However, browse the collections maintained by antique jewellery dealers such as us here at Gatsby Jewellery and it becomes clear that the dwindling popularity of jet isn’t at all due to a lack of beauty – jet is arguably one of the prettiest black gemstones on the market.
Read on for a look at the history of jet, as well as an exploration of its use in jewellery throughout the years.
What is jet?
While officially a part of the coal family, jet is a product of wood – specifically of Araucarian trees.
Jet is formed when this wood is exposed to carbon compression and either salt or freshwater over a period of millions of years.
The resulting material may be either hard jet or soft jet, though both kinds can be worked into a state that can then be used within the manufacture of jewellery and other ornate items.
Jet in the Roman period
Jet’s use within the crafting of jewellery goes back as far as the 3rd century when it was utilised widely in Roman Britain.
Unlike other popular gemstones and metals of the time, jet was not solely reserved for the rich and the monarchy. As a material that was widely available, citizens of lower classes were also able to access jet for use in amulets, pendants, hair pins, beads and bangles.
There’s good reason for the popularity of jet amongst the Romans – during this period, the material was believed to possess magical properties, with many believing that a jet gemstone could deflect the gaze of the evil eye.
Jet in the Victorian era
It was during the Victorian era that the popularity of jet as a fashionable gemstone truly began to thrive.
Following the death of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria had a collection of mesmerising black mourning jewellery created. She regularly wore this jewellery in public to symbolise that she was grieving her late husband, leading to this tradition being adopted widely by widows within the upper classes and aristocracy across the country.
Thanks to their striking black colour, jet and onyx were the stones of choice for Victorian mourning jewellery. Motifs featured within these pieces included clouds, willows, angels and the initials of the late loved one, with gemstones such as pearls often featuring within the piece, too.
The popularity of mourning jewellery continued throughout the first half of the 20th century, as women throughout society used these pieces following the loss of their husbands in both the first and second world wars.
Is jet jewellery still popular today?
Jet jewellery fell out of favour with manufacturers in the latter half of the 20th century, as mid-century jewellers moved to meet the increasing demand for brighter gemstones and more flamboyant designs.
However, antique and vintage jet jewellery has since soared in popularity.
One of the many draws of buying pre-loved jewellery is that these pieces often have a story and deep sentimentality behind them – this is never truer than when looking at Victorian mourning jewellery.