Jet jewellery, such as this necklace of carved and faceted beads, was fashionable in 19th century and could be worn both in and out of mourning. The Queen magazine observed in 1892 that 'a superabundance of jewellery is in especially bad taste at seasons of mourning', but that 'a few trinkets...must be worn, if only to accentuate the general sombreness of the costume'. Only a small proportion of jet jewellery was probably made specifically for mourning.
Materials & Making
Jet is a fossilised wood, a black variety of brown coal or lignite found in many countries. The seams of jet in the area around Whitby in Yorkshire are of high quality.
Workshops in Whitby turning and carving jet ornaments grew from 2 shops employing 25 people in 1832 to 200 employing 1500 people in 1872. Estimates of the annual turnover in 1872 ranged from œ88,000 to œ100,000. The largest firms had branches in London and Birmingham as well as Whitby. The success of jet jewellery was founded on the growth in tourism, on royal patronage and on the change in fashion in the 1850s and 1860s to heavier fabrics, which were well suited to relatively large items of jewellery.