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Whitby Jet, A Definitive Guide - The Geology of Jet (Part 1)

Jewellery & Watch News

The Geology of Jet - Pt I

As the Original Whitby Jet Shop and the world’s leading manufacturers and retailers of Whitby Jet, across our exclusive blog series - WHITBY JET, A DEFINITIVE GUIDE - we offer our professional insight and extensive guide for all those with an interest in, or just wanting to know more about, Whitby Jet.

The Geology of Jet - Part 1

Jet can be found in many different countries around the world including Germany, Australia, France and Poland. In North America jet is found in the states of Illinois, Utah and Colorado. Pueblo Indians used the material to make items of jewellery in conjunction with turquoise and shell, this style of Native American jewellery is still popular in the US today. As a modern day manufacturer of Whitby Jet, we have continued to use Turquoise in our designs.

North East Coast of Whitby, North Yorkshire

Various deposits have also been found in the Baltic. In Spain, good quality jet is found in the provinces of Aragon, Asturias and Galicia. In Russia and China, there is very poor-quality material which arguably shouldn’t even be referred to as jet. However, the jet found around the small seaside town of Whitby in North Yorkshire, England has always been considered the finest and most prized because of its unrivalled mirror-like shine, intense black colour, and stable nature when being worked. The quality of W Hamond's Whitby Jet particularly shines through in our larger pendant designs and Hallmark collection.

The North Yorkshire coast of England is famous for its impressive shale cliffs towering hundreds of feet above the North Sea. These cliffs are rich with fossils and the many different strata are clearly visible within the rocks. It was the condition in which Whitby’s jet was able to fossilise which sets it apart from the rest. For those who have yet to discover the appeal of jet, its feel is nothing like one might imagine, for it is incredibly light in weight and warm to the touch. For W Hamond’s Whitby Jet to be fully appreciated it has to be viewed first hand and if compared against other jet from around the world its superior quality is clearly visible.

There has been much discussion as to the origins of jet over the years. From the theory that jet is derived from a particular species of tree to any kind of tree, to not being ligneous (consisting of wood) at all, but instead being an aggregate of bituminous matter. The latter was initially disproved way back in 1904 by A.C. Steward who produced a series of photomicrographs of jet clearly showing its ligneous nature by revealing the presence of tracheids (plant elements).

In the 1980s, much research was carried out to prove that jet was the fossilised remains of Araucaria Araucana, a distant relative of today’s Monkey Puzzle tree and the most prolifically growing species of tree throughout the Jurassic period (and Yorkshire coast), whereas today, research suggests that jet may originate from any kind of wood given its discovery across many continents.

Allowing the Whitby Jet story to come full circle and allowing subtle links to the gemstone’s origins, some of our workshop’s most popular designs are those with a floral or nature theme - as can be seen in the W Hamond Bloom Collection.

The formation of jet began with trees falling into rivers and bogs and slowly making their way towards the sea, usually breaking up along the way. After becoming waterlogged, the wood would sink to the seabed where over time layers of sediment, detritus, shells and other marine life would bury it, starving it of oxygen and compressing the wood under thousands of tons of rock. It would take between 180 and 200 million years for the transition to take place from wood into hard, workable jet. The sheer weight and pressure crushing down on the wood means that no seam of jet has a depth exceeding 50mm.

Today Whitby Jet is the UK’s most celebrated of British gemstones and is crafted into the most exquisite and fine jewellery pieces from W Hamond’s workshop.