A beader asked if I had any jet. Jet is best known for its popularity in Victorian England. The fashion for this austere mourning jewelry was started by Queen Victoria who deeply mourned the loss of her husband, Prince Albert after he died of typhoid in 1861. For decades only jet jewelry was allowed at court.

Jet has been known for centuries. Ancient Greeks and Romans called it gagates. and credited it with all sorts of medicinal properties including the detection of epilepsy and as a toothache cure. But the most incredulous of all claims was that it could test for virginity!

What is jet? It is really a type of black coal - the fossilised wood of a type of ancient tree. Jet is very amenable to polishing and carving and can also be cut and faceted. It is light weight which made wearing large pieces easy which the Victorian women did. Jet also has a velvet-like quality. People in the past confused amber (fossilised sap of ancient trees) with jet and even called it black amber.

It is found all over the world but the most famous source was Whitby, Yorkshire in northern England which had its heyday in the late 19th century. Cheaper alternatives like black glass and the decline in fashionable use eventually killed demand for jet. Jet mining there stopped in 1920 but the jet still gets washed up along the coast.
Do I have any jet? No. But many of my black glass beads conveniently comes with the description "jet".


Ernle Bradford (1967). Four centuries of European Jewelry. Spring Books

Photo credit : Detlef Thomas, Creative Commons Licence : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Schwarzer_Trauerschmuck2.jpg