Jewellery & Watch News
Let us take you back a couple of centuries to the Victorian era when Whitby Jet was at its height of fashion due to the Queen’s great influence. After the death of her beloved Prince Albert, Queen Victoria only wore Whitby Jet jewellery making the North Yorkshire gemstone extremely popular. Many took the train to the seaside town in search of the deep black gem, which saw the amount of workshops rise considerably. At one point there was approximately 200 workshops in Whitby, which is difficult to comprehend considering the size of our charming town. That’s how in demand Jet was! Another astonishing figure is that 1400 men were hired to work in the Jet industry and with the town’s population reaching just over 4000 you can see the impact on Whitby.
The First Whitby Jet Workshop
The first opened in 1808 on Haggersgate, Whitby and by 1870 there was a couple of hundred scattered around the town. It was a retired Naval officer called Captain Tremlett who after witnessing how Amber was turned into beads in the Baltic wanted to do the same with Whitby Jet. He hired Mathew Hill, a lathe worker who had no previous experience with Jet, alongside Robert Jefferson and John Carter who used homemade tools to carve crosses and beads. The success of this workshop allowed for the trade of Jet to grow.
In the Victorian era, Jet began to be mined as the amount sourced from coastal erosion was not nearly enough - a dangerous act to keep up with the popularity. On the whole most sold genuine Whitby Jet, however some tried to pass lookalikes off as the real deal causing people to question the authenticity. It was the foreign Jet, which was not to the same standard as that found along the North Yorkshire coastline that contributed to the decline of Whitby Jet.
Step Inside a Victorian Workshop
As you can imagine, there is very little written evidence of the process of making Whitby Jet jewellery in the 1800s. The education act was not passed until 1871 so there’s no much documented on the processes during this time. We do know that the quality of work produced in Whitby was exceptional with pieces passed down through generations that remain in great condition today with just a little bit of restoration. Generally, the workshops ran as a production line with different areas and tool for each stage. They worked extremely hard to ensure that the popularity of the Jet was met with skill, precision and intricacy.
The Step by Step Process
10. The Pig Bristle Brush - Finally, a tiny pig bristle brush would successfully remove remove any pastes or mixtures from the jewellery to guarantee perfection.
As you can now see, it wasn’t easy in the Victorian times - or today for that matter - to produce an exquisite piece of Whitby Jet jewellery. It’s an extremely hard task that takes skill, hard work and a lot of tools.