It is almost impossible to visit Whitby and not notice the many shops selling jet jewellery. Items with shiny “jet black” polished stones; The jewel in Whitby’s crown.
What is Jet?
Jet is a form of fossilised wood formed from a species of the Monkey Puzzle Tree dating back to the early Jurassic era, millions of years ago. Although Jet can be found worldwide, the finest quality Jet is found in seams of shale along the Whitby coastline. It can be found in the exposed cliffs along the coast and also on the beaches and in amongst the foreshore rocks. Jet is classed as a semi-precious stone which, when cut and highly polished, can be used to craft beautiful pieces of jewellery.
The history of Whitby Jet
Jet has been collected and crafted for thousands of years. In the Bronze Age it was used to make beads, buttons and jewellery and also thought to be a charm bringing good fortune. Evidence also shows that Jet was used and crafted by The Romans and the Vikings, The Romans having a Jet workshop in nearby York. The Anglo Saxons and Celts are also known to use Jet for ecclesiastical jewellery such as crosses, rosaries, and rings.
The Jet industry became well established in Whitby during the Victorian Era, when people would enjoy holidays in the town and buy the Jet jewellery and trinkets as souvenirs. It was Queen Victoria herself who led the way, wearing Whitby Jet as part of her mourning dress following the death of Prince Albert. Many Victorian ladies followed this fashion, wearing Jet brooches and earrings made from the famous Whitby Jet.
Beachcombing for Jet – how do you know it is Jet?
If you fancy doing a spot of beachcombing and searching for Jet yourself the best place to look is along the beaches under the cliffs. Small pieces of Jet can be found washed up by the tides amongst the seaweed and the rocks. Please be aware that it is illegal to ‘hack’ at the cliffs to uncover Jet, and also dangerous, as the cliffs can be unstable and liable to ‘slip’.
If you are lucky enough to find anything you think could be Jet, then there is an easy way to check it. Many of the pieces of black ‘rock’ you will find are actually coal, washed up by the sea! If you rub the stone on either a piece of sandpaper or a sandstone pebble it will leave a mark. If the mark is black it is coal, if it is brown you have found your very own piece of Whitby Jet.
YouTube video ‘Searching for Whitby Jet’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CblGyy5iVf8