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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
This rather romanticised term simply refers to an item made of black glass that imitates jet:
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:
Horn can be deceptively very similar in appearance to Jet. It also feels smooth and lightweight too.
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.
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