The Darklings Cometh : My Obsession with Victorian Black Jewels

With the days shortening and the air cooling I’m looking forward to the evening more often. My newest collection is inspired by all things dark.

I’ve been a collector of Whitby jet since I discovered it back in my teen years. My very first piece was this wired choker made of Vulcanite and Whitby Jet tied with velvet ribbons that I bought in England. I was smitten. From then on, not only was I hooked keeping an eye for an usual piece but I was also obsessed with learning about it. At that time research was limited to libraries or bookstore. The quintessential text of the time was Helen Muller’s Shire Edition Jet Jewelry and Ornament.

img_0020Muller blissfuly released a new book about ten years ago focusing on Whitby Jet. Both are slim volumes giving a great overview of jet.

img_0022Esoteric antiques were mostly learned about by word of mouth, examination of pieces. With the world of Victorian mourning jewelry it really helps to see the different materials used to make jewelry to get a sense of what to expect and their peculiarities. Growing up we had to rely on what you might find at an antique fair or jewelry shop. With the advent of eBay, the world changed. Now Victorian mourning jewelry could be viewed and reversed easily with a quick Pinterest search.

Mourning Jewelry has been around for a long time, but it surged into vogue when the beloved Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert died of typhoid fever in 1861. The demand for jet was high and because it was a natural product there were limitations on how much could be mined, cut and polished then set into jewels. This article gives a great insight into the period.

img_0017With the industrial revolution at full go, alternatives to natural products were invented. Vulcanite or Ebonite (the rubber version not the mineral) was discovered around 1851, giving the eager buyer of mourning jewelry other options.

The main “black” materials used in making Victorian “jet” or mourning jewelry were

Whitby Jet – A fossilized coal mined in Yorkshire. You can learn more about the history of Whitby Jet here:.

Gutta Percha – an early plastic latex rubber

Vulcanite or Ebonite – a hardened rubber product

Vauxhall Glass – Similar in look to French Jet, it’s a shiny black glass with a mirror backing that was often set in a japanned (blackened metal) frame. UK made black glass is generally called Vauxhall and other countries mirrored-back glass may be referred to French Jet.

French Jet – Black glass often beads, used extensively for clothing trimming – the non-shiny version is known as Crepe Stone.

Bog Wood – a fossilized wood found mainly in peat bogs of Ireland and England. More commonly known as Bog Oak in jewelry though pine, and yew are also found in UK peat bogs. This gives a great overview of Bog Oak history 

Wood – Ebony or other naturally black or blackened/stained woods.

Bois Durci – A colored sawdust/wood flour mixed with blood and a binder an then molded

Onyx Stone

Horn – horn a natural product pressed into a mold.

Shell – often tortoiseshell which is not “jet-like” but there are darker shells which fall into the category. Some are inlaid with metals called pique.

Enameled or blackened metal. 

Hair – woven into chains or earrings or under glass in lockets or rings.

You can learn more about the history of Whitby Jet here.

Lots of examples of pieces of the different types here.

Beyond the enthralling history, what I love about these vintage pieces is the handwork. In the jet it’s the smooth finishing and the design, but in the bog oak it’s the carving. When I discovered Bog Oak Abbey brooches for the first time, I was awe-struck by the delicate sawing. I have a small treasured collection of some very fine pieces and I’ve decided to share a few photos with you, and make a few of the treasures available in this shop update. I can’t wait to show you the pieces I’ve selected.

Always Hunting Dragons

Teasers from the Darklings collection available at 5pm PST

In the HuntingDragons Etsy Shop

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