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Watch chain

  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1875 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:


  • Credit Line:

    Given by Mrs B. M. Dickens

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Jewellery, Rooms 91 to 93 mezzanine, The William and Judith Bollinger Gallery, case 81, shelf D8, box 3

Jet is the fossilized remains of driftwood, compressed into a very compact form of lignite or coal. In Britain, it is principally found in the coastal town of Whitby, North Yorkshire.

It has been used in jewellery since prehistory but became particularly popular as mourning jewellery in the second half of the 19th century. By1872, there were 200 shops in Whitby selling jet and the industry employed 1500 men, women and children.

The custom of wearing mourning dress was encouraged by Queen Victoria’s prolonged mourning after the death of her husband Albert in 1861. This chain is formed of highly polished and carved beads. A watch would have hung from one end, whilst from the other end, a small jet prayer-book hangs.

However, not all jet was used for mourning. It was also a popular souvenir, bought by holidaymakers arriving at the coast on the new railways.

Physical description

Jet watch chain with book.

Place of Origin

England (made)


ca. 1875 (made)



Materials and Techniques



Length: 25.5 cm, Depth: 0.9 cm

Historical context note

The increasing rigidity of mourning conventions during the reign of Queen Victoria gave great encouragement to the manufacture of black jewellery. Expensive work in black-enamelled gold was made by hand. Jet was much in demand, and the workshops in Whitby, Yorkshire, near the main source of the material, produced articles which often comprised hand-carved details applied to mass-produced bodies turned on lathes. Mass production methods, and the use of substitute materials, brought mourning jewellery within reach of all but the poorest. Although pieces were often made from cast black glass, or 'French jet', mounted on metal, or from vulcanite, this piece is of jet.

Descriptive line

Jet watch chain with book, Britain (probably North Yorkshire), about 1875





Subjects depicted

Books; Mourning


Jewellery; Metalwork; Death; Europeana Fashion Project


Metalwork Collection

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