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Jet Jewelry: A brief history

Jet Jewelry

A brief history 

Well, you may not have been thinking long and hard about jet jewelry. But we think you will be intrigued and surprised to learn about this ancient gemstone. This article may not tell you everything, but it will tell you more than you know now and refer you to sources of information.

As a stone of good luck, Jet Jewelry was believed to make a great gift for someone starting a new job or beginning a new business pursuit. It has been said that Jet can bring clarity to a confusing situation.  Those who are struggling through multiple trials and tribulations will appreciate Jet’s supportive powers. That’s what they say and many have believed. For more about the lore, here’s an article.

That’s the lore about Jet Jewelry.

Jet is also called “Mourning Jewelry.” Queen Victoria popularized jet jewelry after her beloved husband, Prince Albert, died. She insisted that everyone in the royal court wear jet (mourning) jewelry, which they did for three years.

Whether it’s a good luck charm. A means for protection. Or for mourning, much of the jewelry carved from the stone are unique and beautiful.

Jet Jewelry: The protector of man

According to Helen Muller, a Jet jewelry expert and author, “Jet has been used as a jewel and talisman for over

four thousand years.”According to Ms. Muller, Jet is a type of brown coal, a fossilized wood of an ancient tree similar to our present day Araucaria. These trees flourished in the Jurassic period about 180 million years ago. How they are converted to Jet is too lengthy to cover here. But trust Ms. Muller, through a series of evolutionary steps, Jet gems emerge.

Jet: first gem to be discovered.

Coincidentally Jet was discovered during the stone age. Primitive man used it as an adornment, and, because it had electrical properties, they would also use it as a protector or potent talisman.

Germany has unearthed jet artifacts that have been dated to 10,000 years B.C. They are mostly small, primitively carved amulets in the shape of animals. Other ancient pieces of Jet have been found, in a variety of forms from simple to intricate, in France and England.

When the Romans invaded Britain they found high-quality hard jet, which impressed them. By the 3rd

Jet stone carved stone
A Roman jet pendant/medallion (3rd or 4th century) showing a man and woman in relief.

Century A.D. they were hard at work producing rings, bracelets, necklaces, pendants, dagger handles and dice. These artifacts have been uncovered during excavations of areas in Britain.

Workshops have never been found in Germany (although Jet pieces have been unearthed), it is assumed that they were brought in from Britain (York).

In the 7th Century AD… 

Christianity arrived in Yorkshire and for the next thousand years or so, jet was mainly used for ecclesiastical jewelry. Rosaries, rings and crosses were made for the monks.

St James Jet statue
A 16th century statuette of St. James.

In Spain, Jet was discovered in three provinces. The Moors wore a jet phallic hand to protect them from the evil eye and this practice      continues in Spain today.

From the 9th Century AD…

Jet was used to make souvenirs for the pilgrims to the shrine of St. James. From the 13th Century there was a successful jet trade, with workers organized into the Brotherhood of Jet Workers. The trade declined in the 17th century and very little work is being performed today.

While very common on the Continent, in America jet is found only in Utah and Colorado. Pueblo Indians used it in their jewelry, often combining it with turquoise and shell.

The rediscovery of  jet Jewelry.

It is said that the introduction of the lathe in 1800 was the start of the Whitby jet industry in England. Of course, other changes in the world, such as the railroad, helped spread the demand for jet jewelry around England. With the start of the Regency period, with heavier, darker dresses, the larger, dark jet jewelry was perfect. The history that follows jet into the 19th century is very interesting. Of course, Queen Victoria insisting that Jet be worn into the court, helped with its popularity, even among those not in the court.

Regency Jewelry’s sale of Jet Jewelry.

We have a large collection of antique jet jewelry in our showroom. We have also put selected items on sale at 50% off in our online catalogue. Or, in-store during the month of September. If you want to learn more about the history of jet gemstones, you can purchase Helen Muller’s book on its history at Ms. Muller is a respected historian especially about the Jet gemstone.