Where does Whitby Jet come from?
Whitby Jet is one of just a few natural organic gemstones in the world making its properties, lustre and appearance completely unique to any other gemstone. A million years in the making, Jet stone is formed from compressed wood from over 186 million years ago. Petrified wood of a prehistoric tree, similar to that of today's Monkey Puzzle or Araucaria tree, became fossilised, compressed and formed over millions of years to turn it into the striking black stone that we see today. The term ‘jet black’ derives from the prominent black colour of the Whitby Jet stone.
Deposits of Jet have been discovered all over the world including Spain, Germany, China, the United States, Turkey and Siberia. However, the stone found in these countries has never compared to the quality of Jet found in Whitby, England. The north Yorkshire fishing town is home to stunning coastlines and picturesque beaches where the finest quality Jet stone has been found. Most commonly, Whitby Jet is discovered along the two mile stretch of coastline between Robin Hood’s Bay and Boulby within seams of shale along the cliffs. On some occasions, the stone can be found washed up on shore following heavy storms and rough seas that has eroded the cliffs and coastline.
It is no longer permitted to mine for Whitby Jet in England however it was common practice during the Victorian era when the production of Jet jewellery was at its greatest. During this time, miners would dig deep into the cliffs to extract raw Whitby Jet stone before refilling their excavations once the cliffs had been exhausted. Occasionally, the stone was found higher up in the cliffs which meant some men were lowered on ropes to mine the stone airborne, something considered incredibly dangerous due to the instability of the cliff’s shale.
When did Whitby Jet become popular?
The first examples of Jet being used as jewellery has dated back to the Neolithic Man, who held the striking stone in such high regard it was often included in burials. Jet is also believed to have been used during the Bronze Age and Iron Age before the Romans began working with the stone on a larger scale, transporting it from Whitby to York to be used to carve out sculptures. You can see examples of Roman Jet in the Yorkshire Museum today. Nevertheless, it wasn’t until the 1800’s that Jet really soared in popularity and was manufactured for commercial use.
In 1851, Whitby Jet was displayed at the Great Exhibition in London where it was seen by a number of prolific people. From this moment, Whitby Jet jewellery became highly coveted by the likes of Queen Bavaria and the Empress of France. However, Jet’s most significant patron was to become Queen Victoria. When her husband Prince Albert died in 1861, Queen Victoria took to wearing the jet black stone in remembrance of him and took her mourning so seriously that the only jewellery to be worn in court during this period was that of Whitby Jet.
It was also during this time that Whitby was becoming a popular holiday destination due to new railway lines linking to the seaside town. Many fashionable men and women would come to Whitby for their holiday and search for Whitby Jet jewellery as a treasured souvenir. The fashions of the Victorian era began to change too with fuller crinolines and voluminous fabrics becoming popular as well as larger, more attention-grabbing jewellery to match.
W Hamond and Whitby Jet Jewellery
During the period when both Whitby as a holiday destination and Jet jewellery were growing rapidly in popularity, James Storr decided to open up his very own Whitby Jet jewellery boutique in the picturesque fishing town. He became known as the Original Whitby Jet Shop creating stunning pieces of Whitby Jet jewellery. For 150 years, this boutique has remained in the same spot at the top of Whitby's historic Church Street and at the foot of the famous Abbey steps, becoming an unmoveable part of the town’s heritage.
The Original Whitby Jet Shop, also known as W Hamond, has become an irreplaceable part of Whitby’s history allowing visitors a glimpse into an era when Whitby as a holiday destination was still in its infancy and fashionable Crinoline-clad ladies sought a piece of handmade Jet jewellery as a souvenir of their visit. W Hamond has not only become famed for its history and its exquisite collections of handmade jewellery, but also for being the proud owner of the world’s largest Whitby Jet gemstone. This record-breaking piece of Jet measures to an incredible 21ft in length and is thought to be over 180 million years old. You can still view this magnificent piece of Whitby Jet in W Hamond’s Whitby store.
To this day, W Hamond remains a family run business with a love and passion for creating gorgeous handmade pieces of Whitby Jet jewellery. All our award-winning collections are designed and handmade in our own workshops in Derbyshire where other precious gemstones like Blue John, diamond, Amber, and Turquoise are combined with the famous Whitby Jet stone to create unmissable and unique collections of fine jewellery.