Victorian Whitby Jet Jewellery appears as British Society is participating in a national obsession with mourning. With the death in 1830 of George IV, the Lord Chamberlains office dictates the dress code for the period. He states unequivocally that “the ornament shall be jet” and in 1830 the term “jet” meant only one material…..Whitby Jet. The death of the Duke of Wellington in 1852 prompted the production of Whitby Jet jewellery into overdrive. The 50 recorded workshops in 1850 then swelled to 204 following the death of Prince Albert in 1861 as yet another wave of mourning sweeps the nation.

This seventy year period changes our cultural relationship with jet. A contemporary account tells us “…mourning caused the jet boom, and mourning killed it….”

This period does however give us some of the finest examples of stone engraving the world has ever seen. Victorian Whitby Jet jewellery in the form of carvings, often depicting symbolic images associated with love, life and remembrance , were expertly recreated in Whitby Jet. Strings of beads, some smooth, some facetted or intricately carved, were  must have accessories. One could even have an opening locket where a  picture or a lock of a departed loved ones hair could be kept .

View our on line archive  of Victorian Whitby Jet Jewellery.

A full suite of mourning jewellery might also include bracelets and earrings. These again ,made with facetted panels or elaborately carved designs on them. All these pieces, whilst looking incredibly heavy in appearance, had the benefit of actually being deceptively light in weight  and so much easier to wear than would at first appear. 

         The need for mourning jewellery also led to the development and sale of a number of Whitby Jet simulants. Find out how to identify Whitby Jet simulants here…

The skills of the ‘jet-age’ were lost with the death in 1963 of Joe Lythe, the last man trained by a Victorian apprenticed jet worker. The craftsmanship of these exceptional artisans can  still however be admired, in the form of their work. Some museum collections such as that of the Whitby museum in Pannett Park and even our own Ebor Whitby Jet Museum boast stunning examples of this fine craft. 

Collecting antique Whitby Jet pieces can be incredibly rewarding and also, on a broader spectrum,  open up an opportunity to discover more about the social changes and history being made during what was without doubt an incredibly significant  time in British history.

If all his has wet your appetite to start collecting antique Whitby Jet , or you would just like to find out more about it ,then you can learn from our leading expert on the subject here.

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