woman from Ebor Jetworks creating jewellery made from Whitby jet

What is Whitby jet?

We’re sure you’re all familiar with the gorgeous pieces of black jewellery that you find in shops all over our little town. But, what is Whitby jet and why is it so popular here? Let us break it down for you.

What is Whitby jet?

Jet is a gemstone made from decaying wood under extreme pressure. It’s a type of coal-substance that washes up on the beaches of Whitby that’s approximately 182 million years old.

Not all trees are capable of becoming jet. Only ones similar to our Money Puzzle or Araucaria tree could be fossilised in the right way to become distinctive Whitby jet.

There have been lots of imitations of Whitby jet over the years. True Whitby jet will never fade or crack over time and will leave a brown mark when rubbed on unglazed porcelain. It’s also warmer to the touch than the common black glass imitation.

Where can you find Whitby jet?

It is possible for you to find pieces of jet washed up on our beaches that have been missed by our jewellery makers. If you do happen to find a piece, or a fossil, you’re very welcome to keep it.  You can take it into one of our shops to have it made into something beautiful.

Look out for shale on the beaches between Robin Hood’s Bay and Boulby if you’re on the hunt for jet. Mining for the gem is not allowed. You have to wait for bad weather and erosion to shake it loose from the cliffs.

whitby jet bracelet resting on a fossil

Because the cliffs are loose, they are likely to slide and have bits break free. If you’re spending time on the beach below, make sure you don’t take any risks in your search. Don’t try and climb up the cliff face. You also need to check the times of the tide to make sure you’ve got plenty of time to leave the beach and not get trapped by the sea.

What makes Whitby jet so popular?

Jet has been a popular gem for jewellery for centuries. Archaeologists have found examples of jet in Roman, Saxon, Viking and even Bronze Age remains. However, the Victorians gave the gem the longstanding commercial popularity as we know it today.

A lot of the love for Whitby jet can be traced back to the Victorians, who helped make Whitby a popular seaside spot. A jet souvenir became a “must-have” item for Victorian holiday makers, but jet’s popularity soared when Queen Victoria began wearing it in remembrance of her husband Albert after his death in 1861.

Jet quickly became etiquette to wear jet jewellery in court and in 1860, Whitby’s very own W. Hamond opened their first Whitby jet store to meet the new demand.

Because it’s made of wood, jewellery made from jet is lightweight and large, lavish designs can be comfortably worn, which of course added to its Victorian appeal. We think Whitby jet is still so popular today because our expert designers and jewellery makers create such beautiful designs!

Get your own Whitby jet jewellery

Will you be purchasing any jet while you’re here? You’ll have lots of options to choose from. Take a look at our jewellery stores online now to start picking your favourite designs and styles.

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