What is Whitby Jet?
A Million Years in the Making
Unlike most gemstones, Whitby Jet is organic and is naturally formed from fossilised wood. Like our present-day Monkey Puzzle or Araucaria Tree, prehistoric wood gets washed up into a body of water and becomes covered by organic sediment. The pressure of the water and sediment over millions of years compacts the wood and slowly transforms it into what we know as Whitby Jet stone today.
The colour of Whitby Jet is truly unique, boasting a deep blackness so intense that the expression ‘jet black’ or ‘as black as jet’ derives from the colour of the stone. It has a smooth and very lightweight appeal making it an excellent choice for jewellery. Its smoothness allows it to take on an extremely high polish to the extent that is could even be used a mirror. Meanwhile, its weightlessness makes it comfortable to wear around the neck, on the wrist or hanging elegantly from the ears.
Where is it Found?
Whitby Jet has been found in many countries worldwide including China, Siberia and the USA. It has also been found in other European countries like Germany and Spain, however, the finest quality Jet has always come from the North-East coast of England in the county of North Yorkshire. It is in the picturesque fishing town of Whitby in Yorkshire that W Hamond sources all of its raw gemstone material.
Although most frequently found in seams of shale between Robin Hood's Bay and Boulby, Whitby Jet can also be discovered washed up on the shore when bad weather or rough seas occur where seams that extend under the sea have broken away.
It has never been permitted to mine for Whitby Jet gemstone, however it was accepted practice in the Victorian era to dig deep into the cliff face to extract. It was a common exercise for miners to exhaust a cliff face of the gemstone and then refill their excavations. In higher and more inaccessible areas of the cliff, young men were lowered on ropes to carry out excavations. This was considered an incredibly dangerous task, particularly because the cliffs are mostly shale and therefore very unstable.
A Gemstone Famed by Royalty
During the 1800’s and with new rail links to Whitby, the town became a popular seaside holiday destination for early Victorians. During their visit, a souvenir piece of Whitby Jet was a must, particularly Whitby Jet jewellery. As the century progressed, fashions were beginning to change, and clothing became heavier and more voluminous, in particular, crinolines of the times became fuller in design and required larger, more eye-catching jewellery to match. Whitby Jet’s lightweight characteristic made it the perfect gemstone to adorn large accessories, allowing even the largest of necklaces and earrings to be worn in comfort.
In 1851, Whitby Jet was exhibited for the first time at the Great Exhibition in London. Soon after, it became coveted by a number of high profile royals including the Queen of Bavaria and the Empress of France. However, Whitby Jet's most prolific patron was to be Queen Victoria.
When Price Albert died in 1861, Queen Victoria took to wearing Whitby Jet jewellery in remembrance of him, quickly making it the etiquette to accessorise the period's mourning dress with jewellery made from the gemstone. Queen Victoria valued the gemstone so that the only jewellery allowed to be worn in court during this period was Whitby Jet. It was at this time that James Storr established his very own Whitby Jet jewellery boutique and W Hamond first opened its doors to the many fashionable ladies and gentlemen of the period.
The World's Largest Whitby Jet Gemstone
With an unrivalled 150-year history working with Whitby Jet, W Hamond is not only famed for the delicate, handcrafted jewellery collections displayed within the boutique’s cabinets. In addition, the company is also the proud owner of the world’s largest piece of Whitby Jet gemstone. In what is a truly spectacular piece of natural stone, W Hamond’s record breaking Whitby Jet is a staggering 21 foot in length. 180 million years in the making, this fabulous and truly unique example of Whitby Jet can be seen in W Hamond’s Whitby boutique today. A viewing is highly recommended as part of your visit to the seaside town.
We have an incredible range of award-winning Whitby Jet jewellery with many collections featuring other precious gemstones like diamond, Blue John, Turquoise, Amber and many others. We design and handcraft all the W Hamond jewellery you see on our website, which means they can even be made to your specification. We also boast a stunning collection of antique Jet jewellery which are very specialist pieces popular with jewellery collectors.
Within our workshops in Whitby and Derbyshire, we design and handcraft all of our jewellery collections. The Whitby Jet stone is taken directly from the cliffs of Whitby, worked on from rough form, cut, polished and set into sterling silver and gold mounts to become part of our breathtaking Whitby Jet jewellery collections.