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Victorian Times: A Collector's Guide For Differentiating Whitby Jet & Black French Glass Jewelry

Tanzy Ward


One of the most recognized and popular materials used in Victorian Era (1837-1901) accessories is Whitby Jet and its emulation, French Jet. During the 19th century, the jet was a common stone used in jewelry. Although the gemstone was used long before the Victorian Era's Grand Period (1861-1880), the plane was often highly associated with this specific period during the 19th century. After Queen Victoria (1819-1901) went into deep mourning following the death of her husband, Prince Albert (1819-1861), she began to wear all black. It was customary for loved ones to wear black for a minimum of two years while mourning. 


(Mid 19th Century Victorian Jewelry and Tintype of Unidentified Woman. Photo Courtesy of Zanathia Jewelry Collection)


Instinctively, Victorians chose black accessories to go along with their mourning attire. One of the more popular choices was Jet stones.  Jet, a type of fossilized wood, is a gemstone often mistakenly categorized as a mineral. However, it is a ‘mineraloid’ and a form of coal. The highest quality jet was found and mined in the small town of Whitby, England. During the 19th century, various jet workshops were in business, and the industry thrived. Whitby Jet is a perfect stone for detailed carving and great for incorporating intricate designs on surfaces. Presently, it is illegal to mine a jet in Whitby. Therefore, if you come across Whitby Jet jewelry, it is rare and precious due to its limited availability. Older Whitby Jet jewelry dates back to the 19th century when the gemstone was heavily mined and produced. By the end of the 19th century, the mining of Whitby Jet was illegal and no longer easily accessible in the industry. Therefore, its scarcity and rarity correlate with the historical significance and importance of preserving the limited pieces still in existence.  


(Victorian Era Whitby Jet Jewelry Pictured, Including Beaded Necklace and Button Bracelet. Brooch is a glass imitation created from Vauxhall Glass. Photo Courtesy of Zanathia Jewelry Collection) 


As the Whitby jet continued to be in high demand, there were also popular imitations of the natural plane. French jet was cheaper to manufacture as opposed to Whitby Jet. What exactly is French Jet? Interestingly, 'French' jet glass is not exactly 'French,' and it is not a real jet. It is black glass that can look very similar to a real plane. French jet pieces manufactured during the Victorian Era were also created with superb quality, and the synthetic material can often be mistaken for Whitby Jet. Although both materials are black and frequently used in Victorian jewelry, there are ways to help differentiate the two. Below are some helpful tips when collecting and authenticating Jet and French Jet accessories.
(Victorian Era French Jet Beaded Jet Bracelet. When Examining The Piece, Notice The Glossy Faceted Surface and The Scratches. Whitby Jet Jewelry often has a brownish color streak on the surface if scratched. Courtesy of The Zanathia Jewelry Collection)
  • Natural Jet is often more lightweight than French Jet glass. In the 19th century, Whitby Jet was used to create larger jewelry pieces since they were lighter. Jet was commonly used for size brooches, lockets, necklaces, and bracelets. However, sizable French Jet beaded bracelets were also widely created during the Victorian Era. Yet, these pieces will feel heavier than Whitby Jet. Black Jet and French glass 'mourning' bracelets were popular and in demand. There are still many Whitby Jet and French Jet examples in existence today. 
  • When examining the piece with your hands, it is essential to note that French Jet is usually colder to the touch while natural Jet feels warmer. 
  • When observing the designs on Jet jewelry, the carvings are more intricate, precise, and sharp. Natural Jet cannot be reshaped, whereas black glass can.
  • Since French Jet is heavier than Whitby Jet, it has been commonly used for smaller faceted beaded necklaces. The popularity of French Jet beaded necklaces extended beyond the Victorian Era and was quite popular during the early 20th century. Whitby Jet was a trendy choice for long-beaded necklaces during the Victorian Era. French Jet beaded necklaces may appear shinier, glassier, and faceted than Whitby. Black beaded necklaces were an essential mourning accessory option and became a jewelry fashion sensation for casual looks. 
  • If scratched, French Jet will not leave a color-streaked mark. Whitby Jet usually leaves a dark burgundy or brownish streak on the surface.


Both Whitby Jet and French glass were highly revered and staple choices for Victorians. At times, it may be challenging to differentiate the two. However, certain distinct physical traits and characteristics can help to identify Whitby Jet from French Jet glass. Modernly, Victorian Whitby Jet and French glass pieces are highly collectible and historically significant to preserve. Their high-quality craftsmanship and designs are still remarkable and unique. Centuries have passed, but their historical importance and intriguing designs are still highly sought after and historically sentimental. 

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