Ever wondered where Whitby Jet comes from?
Our lovely town is famous for its association with the precious black gemstone, sometimes known as Whitby jet.
Beautiful and distinctive, we love seeing jet jewellery in Whitby’s shops, but then we started to wonder where it came from.
Did you know that jet is actually fossilised wood, created from the Monkey Puzzle tree (Araucaria tree to give the tree its Latin term)?
Jet is actually one of just a handful of natural, organic gemstones in the world. Its story is millions of years in the making.
Millions of years ago, Monkey Puzzle trees were commonplace around our coast.
Over the millennia, the wood and debris washed to sea and was eventually compressed into a thick sedimentary layer.
Ever-increasing pressure caused the debris to disperse, with the more resistant bits forming into jet.
Searching for Whitby Jet
If you are lucky enough to pick up a fragment of jet on the beach, it’s surprisingly lightweight.
Jet can be highly polished, creating the glossy finish you see in Whitby’s retailers and elsewhere.
However, this is ‘nowt new’ as it’s thought jet was used for decorative purposes back in the Bronze Age!
So, if you’re ever asking, what did the Victorians do for us, they helped make it popular, yet jet had been in use for centuries.
In a way, we do have Queen Victoria to thank for the popularity of jet.
Following the early death of her husband, Prince Albert, she wore jet as part of her mourning attire.
Whitby Jet was also displayed at the Great Exhibition in 1851 in London.
Whitby Jet Industry
Back in the 19th century, jet was mined and transported by pony, and the jet industry was a major employer in the area.
It is thought around 200 miners worked the coastline to find the jet, and up to 1,500 jet-related workers were in Whitby by the late 1800s.
However, window-shopping for jet jewellery (or, even better, buying it!) is a Whitby tradition.
You can carefully search for jet along our shores, but it’s a time-consuming task. You need a keen eye and the patience of a saint.
We prefer having a meander around Whitby’s narrow, cobbled streets and admiring the black gemstone in a mullioned shop window,
One such jet emporium is W Hamond, one of several jet outlets in our lovely town.
W Hamond was established in 1860 and use local jet in their creative process.
Positioned close to the foot of the 199-steps that lead up to Whitby Abbey, W Hamond is now collaborating with the globally famous luxury brand, Fabergé®.
The Faberge® story started in France in the 1680s and moved to St Peterburg, Russia in the 1830s.
Gustav Fabergé® worked in the Russian capital for Keibel, goldsmiths and jewellers to the Emperors of Russia.
Gustav completed his apprenticeship and opened a jewellery shop in Bolshaya Morskaya, a fashionable street in St Petersburg.
Gustav’s son Peter took over the business in 1882 and in 1885 to 1886, the Russian Emperor commissioned the now iconic Easter Egg for the Empress.
Fabergé® was later nationalised following the Russian Revolution of 1917.
During the 20th Century underwent several challenges and changes before Fabergé® Limited announced it acquired the Fabergé® trademarks in 2007.
Two years later, Fabergé® was relaunched.
During the following years, Fabergé® works alongside world-famous brands including Rolls Royce and more recently, W Hamond of Whitby.
Jet from Around the World
Jet is rarer than diamonds but can be found in Germany, northern Spain, Turkey and New Mexico.
Whitby jet, though, is known for its excellent quality, including its toughness, stability and ability to polish up to a glossy shine.
If you go jet hunting, then Whitby is the wrong place to look, instead head up to Runswick Bay or Robin Hood’s Bay.
There are very strict rules for jet gathering due to its rarity and small size.
Do NOT remove any jet from cliffs as if you want your own piece of jet.
It must have been washed from the cliffs and onto the beach, where searchers can beach-comb for their finds.
Always keeps a safe distance from the cliffs and know your tide times allowing for incoming tides.
Also be sure you’ve found some jet and not a piece of coal.
Take a piece of sandpaper with you, rub the specimen you’ve found against the paper.
If it leaves a ginger-brown mark, then it is jet, otherwise it is coal.
The craftworkers also use the gemstone Derbyshire Blue John along with other stunning materials such as amber and turquoise.
As we live and love Whitby, we are very proud of this famous industry which has such strong connections to our town.