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Earrings

  • Place of origin:

    England (probably, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1870 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Jet

  • Museum number:

    M.944A&B-1983

  • Gallery location:

    Jewellery, Rooms 91 to 93 mezzanine, The William and Judith Bollinger Gallery, case 81, shelf D8, box 5 []

Jet is the fossilised remains of driftwood. In Britain, the main source is Whitby, in Yorkshire. It became particularly popular in mourning jewellery in the mid 19th century. The first industrial jet workshops in Whitby, using lathes to carve the jet, were set up in 1808. By 1872, the industry employed up to 1500 men, women and children.

Jet was worn at the highest levels of society. It was shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851 and gained the patronage of the Queen of Bohemia. It was also frequently used during mourning. The custom of wearing mourning dress was encouraged by Queen Victoria’s prolonged mourning after the death of her husband Albert in 1861 and became highly formalized.

Jet jewellery could be very fashionable and followed the styles of the day. As jet is light, substantial pieces of jewellery could be worn without discomfort. Its hard, dense nature made it easy to carve and it could be left matt or polished to a high shine.

The jewellery in this parure, composed of a necklace, brooch, bracelet and earrings is carved with medallions of female heads, symbolising 'Night' in a surround of roses and leaves.

Physical description

Pair of jet earrings, decorated with female head medallions in the centre surronded by roses and leaves.

Place of Origin

England (probably, made)

Date

ca. 1870 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Jet

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

Pair of jet earrings, decorated with female head medallions symbolising 'Night', surrounded by roses and leaves. England (probably North Yorkshire), about 1870.

Materials

Jet; Copper alloy

Techniques

Carving

Subjects depicted

Leaves; Heads; Roses; Women; Mourning; Medallions

Categories

Jewellery; Metalwork; Death; Europeana Fashion Project

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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