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One of Yorkshire’s most famous exports, Whitby Jet is prized right around the world. This beautiful gemstone has been coveted throughout history, and trinkets made from Whitby Jet remain wonderful souvenirs to stir up fond memories of holidays in Whitby. Looking to find out more about Whitby Jet? Our in-depth guide will tell you everything you need know.


What Is Whitby Jet?

Jet is a semi-precious organic gemstone that has naturally fossilised over the course of hundreds of millions of years.

Coined by Shakespeare, the phrase ‘as black as jet’ is still in use today and pays tribute to this gem beautiful tone’s distinctive, lustrous blackness.

Although jet is found across the globe, including countries such as Spain, Germany, Turkey and China, much of this is low-quality soft jet which cracks over time and has rather a low lustre. It is only in North Yorkshire that the highest quality, most sought-after jet in the world is found, across the moors and along the coast surrounding the town of Whitby.


Why is Whitby Jet so popular?

Whitby Jet has been valued as a material for the creation of precious objects since Pre-Historic times. Stone Age carvings, Bronze Age beads, Roman jewellery, early-medieval religious items – its unique allure has continued across the centuries.

However, it wasn’t until the 19th century that Whitby Jet truly rose to fame. The introduction of the railways opened up seaside towns as thriving holiday destinations, and objects made from the local jet were wonderful souvenirs. Nevertheless, it was the Victorians’ obsession for Whitby jet mourning jewellery that saw demand truly sky rocket, particularly when Queen Victoria herself wore it following the death of her beloved husband, Prince Albert.


Where Can I buy Whitby Jet?

Many sellers claim to sell Whitby Jet, but always exercise caution when you’re browsing – especially if you’re shopping online. Lots of items for sale aren’t always what they seem. For peace of mind, go straight to the source: a handful of excellent jewellers producing and selling genuine Whitby Jet can be found along the winding streets of Whitby, including W. Hamond, Ebor and Simpsons. W. Hamond’s boutique is also home to the world’s largest Whitby Jet gemstone (nearly 6.5 metres long!), so don’t miss the chance to pop in, if you’re visiting this shop in person.


How do I check it’s really Whitby Jet?

Because of the huge demand for Whitby in the Victorian Era, a lot of manufacturers tried to reproduce substitutes for the market place. This means there are plenty of antique objects that may look rather like they’re made of Whitby Jet, but most definitely aren’t.

True Whitby Jet

  • Jet is not cool to the touch.
  • True jet will either float or sink very slowly, in water.
  • Jet does not fade over time.
  • Gently rub an inconspicuous part of the object across some unglazed pottery or stone; true jet produces a brown/black streak.
  • Genuine Whitby Jet produces static electricity, when rubbed briskly.

Identifying Whitby Jet substitutes:
Vulcanite
Bog Oak
French Jet
Gutta Percha
Dyed Horn

Whitby Jet vs. Vulcanite

This hard, rubber was a popular alternative to Whitby Jet in the 19th century, but there are plenty of tell-tale signs to distinguish it from the real thing:

  • Rather than deep black, vulcanite looks dark brown in the light.
  • Exposed to daylight over extended periods of time, vulcanite fades into green tones.
  • Vulcanite objects were regularly cast from a mould of real Whitby Jet pieces, so you’ll very often spot impression lines around the edges.
  • The pins on vulcanite brooches are often screwed in place, rather than glued.

Whitby Jet vs. Bog Oak

This peat-like Irish imitation of Jet was another popular choice for passing off as Whitby Jet, but there are a few simply clues for identifying it:

  • Looking closely at bog oak, you’ll see wood grains and the surface won’t be very polished, unlike the smooth, lustrous appearance of Whitby Jet.
  • Perhaps most obviously, the design of bog oak pieces is normally a big giveaway. Castles (particularly ruined castles), harps, and shamrocks were all popular motifs in the production of Irish bog oak.

Whitby Jet vs. French jet

This rather romanticised term simply refers to an item made of black glass that imitates jet:

  • The object will be cool to the touch.
  • French jet will feel quite heavy, in comparison to lightweight jet.
  • The item may have lines from the moulding process.

Whitby Jet vs. Gutta Percha

This hard, rubbery material is made from tree sap. Although it looks very much like Jet at first glance, there are a few ways to spot it:

  • Impressions from the moulding process may be visible around the edges, on inspection.

Whitby Jet vs. Dyed Horn

Horn can be deceptively very similar in appearance to Jet. It also feels smooth and lightweight too.

  • Dyed horn, held up to the light, will occasionally appear translucent along its edges.

How to clean Whitby Jet

Whitby jet is very easy to clean, simply using warm water and a mild detergent. Once it’s dry, give it a gentle wipe with baby oil on some piece of cotton wool to bring back its high polish. Don’t forget to keep jet jewellery separate so that it doesn’t get scratched.


Treating yourself to some genuine Whitby Jet? Enjoy a break at one of our cottages in Whitby, buy from the best shops around, and make the most of break in this beautiful seaside town. 


Image attribution: image 1 Whitby Jet, straight from the beach – CC 2.0; image 5 –Detlef Thomas

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