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History of Whitby Jet

From Romans to Royals, to Modern Day.


History of Whitby Jet

The origins of jet’s role in history and culture can be traced as far back as the Bronze Age. Although there was no mass scale production, there was a sufficient number of pieces for today’s archaeologists to discover in amongst buried remains of the era and, with the help of modern science, trace the material back to the North Yorkshire coast. It is also widely recognised by the finds made that jet pieces would have been worn by people of high rank and importance within a community, illustrating jet has always been a highly prized material.

Moving through the subsequent Roman era, Vikings, Middle Ages and Early Modern history jet was to feature throughout. The simpler pieces which were associated with the Bronze age were to be replaced by a growing demand for more intricate designs and carvings which would take on mythical, magical and religious symbolism and powers. In amongst the historical discoveries which have been made, the link with Whitby Jet and North Yorkshire remains throughout.

As the history of Whitby Jet reaches the Victorian era, the popularity and demand for the gemstone marks a significant milestone in its story. Whilst the first Whitby Jet workshops opened at the turn of the 19ft century, it wasn’t until the Pickering to Whitby railway opened in 1836 the local demand surged as holidaymakers poured into the town and wanting souvenirs of their visit. Such was the demand during this period mining for Whitby Jet started around 1840 (the last Jet mine closing in 1920) and by 1850 Whitby was home to 50 recorded workshops.

Following the death of Prince Albert in 1861, the number of workshops rose to an excess of 200 as Queen Victoria chose to wear Whitby Jet as her statement of mourning for the loss of her beloved husband. These were halcyon days for Whitby Jet and with demand often outstripping supply, many simulants began to flood the market. With imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, the inferior materials just illustrated how desirable Whitby Jet was and highlighted the true quality of the original gemstone should any comparison have been made.

Moving on to the modern-day popularity of Whitby Jet, at Robert and Victoria we embrace the history and heritage of our gemstone with a wide selection of antique pieces and jewellery with vintage design inspiration. We also know by those who visit our boutique and find us online through social engagement, Whitby Jet has a modern appeal, which we feel is reflect that through our many collections. Whether they inspired from our home in Whitby with our gothic and coastal designs, to a more universal appeal with our romantic hearts and designer collections, we are proud to play our part in the History of Whitby Jet.

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