Sarah Caldwell Steele

Welcome to my website, here’s a little information about me.

Sarah Caldwell Steele is widely considered the world’s leading expert in black gemstone identification. She is a Senior Accredited Gemmologist and was awarded Fellowship of the Gemmological Association of Great Britain in 2013, and Diamond Fellowship in 2015. She holds a first degree in geology from the University of Durham and has recently returned to Durham as a doctoral researcher in archaeology. Her multidisciplinary and multiperiod PhD thesis focuses on the gemmological classification, identification and interpretation of black artefacts within the archaeological record, focusing in particularly on the Jet Group. Key to the work is her introduction of the term ‘gem-quality hydrocarbon’ to facilitate a more nuanced approach to jet nomenclature.

Whitby jet has not been the focused subject of academic research since 1933 and as such Sarah’s contribution to knowledge will revolutionise our understanding of this culturally important material. Her research is beginning to attract media interest and her project was recently featured in The Sunday Times. Sarah’s particular expertise is not restricted however to the archaeological record, she is also a specialist in natural thermoset and thermoplastic organic materials used in the production of C19th jewellery.

Sarah’s passion (she describes it as a vocation) for jet began at seven when she first found a piece of Whitby jet on the beach. She began cutting the material commercially at eleven, selling her jewellery to friends and family. Her visits to the British Lapidary and Mineral Dealers Association annual shows at Harrogate in the 1980’s opened a whole world of opportunities to her, revealing the alchemical world of gem cutting and gem dealing. She quickly decided she would become a mining geologist specialising in diamonds! However, the more she researched gemstones academically, the more she realized there was only one gem to arouse her true passion—Whitby jet.

Having won her first award for jewellery design using Whitby jet at fourteen Sarah, with the help of her mother Isobel Caldwell founded her craft fair business which would, in 2000, become The Ebor Jetworks Ltd. Sarah’s lapidary expertise is the key to her research success, much of which is routed in experimental archaeology. Her practitioner expertise has allowed her to establish close working relationships with jet-working communities across four continents, sharing vernacular language and vernacular science.

Sarah has amassed a huge collection of gemstones with only one common denominator— they are all black. She uses this teaching set to deliver tailored education to gemmologists, archaeologists and jewellery students alike. Sarah has previously worked as a sessional lecturer at The University of Sunderland and The University of Rochester and regularly delivers workshops worldwide concentrating on quick visual identification techniques to give a black and white perspective on this difficult gemmological challenge.

Sarah is a regularly asked to speak and deliver workshops at gem conferences around the world. Her recent engagement highlights include speaking at:

Jorvik Viking Festival, York, 2020

American Gem Traders Association, Tucson 2019

The Geological Society of America, Phoenix 2019

Gemmological Institute of America, San Francisco Chapter 2019

European Plastic Heritage Consortium, Lisbon, 2019

Society of Jewellery Historians, London 2019

Folk Horror Revival, Whitby 2019

Accredited Gemologist Association Conference workshop, Tucson 2018

The Peabody Museum, University of Yale 2018

The Canadian Gemmological Association Conference, Vancouver 2018

Gemological Institute of America Conclave, poster Carlsbad 2018

Jurassic Coast Symposium, Yorkshire Museum, 2017

Gem World Conference, Chicago, poster 2017

Gemmological Association of Great Britain Conference workshop, London 2017

Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society, Whitby 2017

Geologists Association Student Symposium, London 2017

She is also a freelance writer with numerous published articles.

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