When most people think about semi-precious gemstones they probably think about the sparkly ones, such as topaz, amethyst, sapphire and emerald.
Rarely will people think about Whitby Jet, but not only is Jet one of the earliest gemstones known to be used in the making of fine jewellery it’s also one of the rarest gemstones still being found today.
What is Whitby Jet?
The gemstone that we now know as Whitby Jet began life over 180 million years ago when its raw material, the monkey puzzle tree, became encased in layers of sediment at the bottom of the sea. Over time, the trees became petrified and turned in to the black shale layers that can be seen along the cliffs around Whitby (very long explanation cut short!) These shale layers are what ultimately become the beautiful gemstone that is Jet.
Understandably the conditions for creating Jet needed to be just right and as a result there are very few places along the coast line of Great Britain where you can find quality pieces of shale. Whitby lies close to the centre of a 7.5 mile stretch of coastline that is ripe with excellent quality shale.
Unfortunately getting the shale out of the cliff face is not an easy task (although it can be done with patience and the right tools) and so the Jet jewellers of Whitby have to spend much of their spare time combing the beaches for washed up pieces.
The History of the Whitby Jet Jewellery Industry
The Whitby Jet jewellery industry dates back to the early 1800s when a retired naval officer known as Captain Tremlett decided there was money to be made from the gemstone. Captain Tremlett noticed two locals, one of which was a popular publican John Carter, making small crosses and beads from Whitby Jet. Wanting to cut down the amount of time it took to fashion the little beads, Tremlett asked the local lathe worker, Mathew Hill, to create a range of beads using his lathe…a request that ultimately led to the start of the Jet industry in Whitby.
By 1850 the area boasted over 50 workshops employing a total of 1400 men. The quality of the jet pieces being made in Whitby became a talking point across the country, and as a result countless Victorian ladies travelled to the area simply so that they could adorn themselves with a piece of Whitby Jet. One of the most talented Jet sculptors of the time, Issac Greenbury, took his creations to London’s Great Exhibition of 1851 where he managed to secure numerous orders for commission pieces that can still be seen around the world today.
During the late 1800s the East Cliff was awash with small, family run shops and studios whereas the West Cliff was home to the large manufacturers. As a town industry Whitby Jet created an annual turnover equivalent to around £3 million today (at its peak) and continued to be incredibly lucrative until the 1st World War demanded the attention of the Jet workers.
Today, there are still several Whitby Jet jewellers in the area although nothing like the numbers seen in the 1800s. One jewellery shop that has truly stood the test of time is that of W.Hamond, the original Whitby Jet jeweller established in 1860. Located at the top of Church Street and at the very foot of the iconic Abbey steps, this unique shop boasts possibly the best range of Whitby Jet jewellery in the world. And what’s more, every piece of exquisite jewellery in the shop is handcrafted in the adjoining workshop by a small number of highly talented craftspeople.
Whitby Jet Jewellery at a Glance
The range of jewellery pieces available that include Whitby Jet in one form or another is immense. During the 1900s the gemstone was most commonly associated with memorial jewellery, simply because of its intense black colour, but today all kinds of pieces exist that are perfect for any occasion. Whether you’re looking for something simple, such as a solid jet heart necklace, or you’re after something a bit more intricate for a special occasion then you’re sure to be able to find it in Whitby.
Taking a quick glance at W.Hamond’s website it’s easy to see that Whitby Jet has successfully been incorporated into necklaces, rings, bracelets, earrings, brooches and watches using a range of precious metals. You can choose from silver, gold, white gold, rose gold or platinum, and even find pieces of jewellery with additional gemstones included as well.
In fact, it’s safe to say that every piece of Whitby Jet jewellery handcrafted in the local workshop will be unique in some way. It may only be a small detail or you may actually be buying a ‘one of a kind’ piece; either way your piece of Whitby Jet jewellery will be yours and no one else’s.
Now you can’t say that about many types of jewellery can you?
The Beauty of Whitby Jet Jewellery
It’s impossible to imagine the beauty of Whitby Jet Jewellery from a written description so the best thing to do would be to take a look. After all, a picture paints a thousand words and regardless of how well we describe the jewellery created by the Whitby Jet sculptors of today we could never do it justice.
As mentioned above, the boutique of W.Hamond is easily the best place to shop for top quality, conversation stopping Whitby Jet jewellery. Many of the pieces are easily affordable but if you do happen to see something that’s a bit out of your price range then there is the possibility of 0% finance, and what’s more you can apply and buy online.
So, the only thing left to do is visit the website and see which stunning piece of Whitby Jet jewellery you’re going to make your own.
Buy Whitby Jet jewellery online at www.whamond.com