The Secret Life of Jet

whitby jet beadjet bead

The second installment of my series The Secret Life of Gems based on Victoria Finlay's book Jewels: A Secret History, features jet, a gem that I happy to report knew nothing about until cracking open chapter two.

Though I do admit that I have a slight jet fetish, where I sometimes feel the urge to visit Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry and peruse their splendid selection of Victorian adornment that includes a wonderful collection of jet broaches, cameos, and earrings, I've never known jet's deeper history.

By the way, have you visited Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry before? I usually run over to Morning Glory when I want to get inspired by Victorian tastes. Even more interesting are the old photographs of these somber ladies from the nineteenth century wearing their jewelry of mourning made out of jet.

I won't ruin the best part of chapter two from Jewels: A Secret History, by divulging the true nature of an ancient skeleton found wearing a necklace of six hundred jet beads, but I will give you a peek into how this gem took center stage during the nineteenth century.

In 1861, Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria died and plunged the widow into forty years of public mourning. Though the practice of mourning was already an important part of Victorian England, the Queen made a bold fashion statement by consistently adorning herself with Whitby jet, black jewels that adequately symbolized grieving in the Western world.

Crazed by the demand for jet, Victorian England experienced a bit of a gold rush where hoards of people started combing beaches looking for remnants of this ancient fossilized tree that made its home with dinosaurs. Since jet is really decaying wood that experienced extreme pressure, the material is lightweight and is the perfect accessory for wearing over heavy, puffy Victorian dresses.

Though jet would not be my first choice when creating jewelry, I've always been intrigued by its black color and how artists have shaped it through elaborate carving. Now after reading chapter two of Victoria Finlay's Jewels: A Secret History, I learned that long before Queen Victoria's cult of mourning, during the Roman era, jet may have been connected to a much darker cult...

May you enjoy discovering this ancient secret for yourself :)


  1. Another fascinating post, Beth! On your recommendation, I ended up buying this book, and even though I have only read a page or two, it is soooo interesting. Have made a 2 necklaces with jet highlighted with Bali silver. The ladies who bought them love the jewels because of the light weight although they have to be extra careful with them because of jet's softness. After 5 years, so far, so good! Will try not to read ahead of your next installment. Ha! (:

  2. greetings.
    am visiting your blog for the first time since purchasing some of your charms from your etsy shop. interesting, the making of your charms.

    very interesting, also, the history and origin of jet. "jet" has fascinated me since being introduced to it in my childhood.

    thank you for allowing me to visit your blog.

    happy saturday eve to you!

  3. My copy of the book just arrived! Thanks for the tantalizing posts. Have you read the author's earlier book "Color" ? It is delicious, enchanting, inspiring, amazing. I am giving both books as gifts to 2 artist friends this holiday. I cant wait to dive in to my copy...

  4. Marie, nice to see you out here on blogger! Thank you so much for enjoying this post on Jet.

    Catherine, yahoo you bought the book! So glad you are liking it. How interesting that you have worked with jet and it has held up. That is so cool that you can follow the life of your jewelry.

    Jenny, how cool that are starting the book too! I haven't read Color, but I just purchased it from Amazon and it is in the mail. What a great idea to give these books to artist friends for Christmas. This book is the kind of writing that made me study art history :) I feel like we are all in this wonderful art book club together!!!


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