Tuesday, 25 August 2009

None more black

Jet is very black. So much so that they call things that are really black jet-black. (Let's forget for a second that jet can also be dark brown). It has a long history of use in jewellery, despite it being more of a fossil than a mineral. It has - slightly condescendingly -been called a mineraloid. I'm always a little disappointed to be described as a humanoid. It's like I didn't quite make the grade.

Jet is actually a dense form of lignite - a coal. It's thought the best jet is fossilised Araucaria wood, better known as the monkey puzzle tree. Given how it can be found in the stratigraphy, most jet seems to have been initially deposited as driftwood. A softer form was originally laid down in freshwater. Another form of coal, anthracite, is often mistaken for jet, but true jet takes a far better polish than the pretenders.

Whitby, in Yorkshire, has long been a centre for jet jewellery, as some seams around that area provide very high grade material. A lot of material is also washed up on the beaches around that part of the coast, though it tends to be of lesser quality than the material directly mined. It's harder to find now, but there is still enough to keep a few jewellery makers going. Vikings used to come to Yorkshire to get jet, taking a break from their raping and pillaging to pick out a pretty brooch. The oldest jet jewellery, though, is thought to be between 16 and 17,000 years old, and plenty of 10,000 year old stuff has been found in Germany.

Queen Victoria was a big fan of jet. Because it's black and it went with her dresses. Her endorsement saw a bit of a boom in the trade. It's not quite as popular now as it was back then, or in the twenties, but it's still a nice stone. And I like nice stones.

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