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Tiara

  • Place of origin:

    Bohemia (made)

  • Date:

    1880-90 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Cast glass mounted on metal

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Mrs B de B Crichton

  • Museum number:

    M.133-1984

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

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 custom of wearing mourning dress was encouraged by Queen Victoria's prolonged mourning after the death of her husband Albert in 1861. Formal mourning required black crepe or bombazine clothes along with 'a few trinkets to accentuate the general sombreness of the costume'. This tiara shows that jet or its substitutes was worn at the highest level of society: only those above a certain social class would have had the occasion to wear a tiara. It is interesting that it is made of 'French jet', a cast glass substitute for jet. As supplies of jet were not sufficient to keep up with the demand, dark cast glass known as 'French jet' or 'Vauxhall glass' was often used.

Physical description

Mock-jet tiara in the shape of a broad-based triangle. Cast glass ('French jet') mounted on metal.

Place of Origin

Bohemia (made)

Date

1880-90 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Cast glass mounted on metal

Dimensions

Height: 7 cm, Diameter: 17.5 cm

Object history note

Historical significance: Jet jewellery has existed since prehistory. It became especially popular in the mid-nineteenth century. It is the fossilized remains of an ancient tree, found in Germany, Spain and especially around Whitby, in Yorkshire. Its popularity was due to a number of factors. The growth of tourism in the nineteenth century, facilitated by the new railways, brought jet to new markets as a holiday souvenir. It could be carved into elaborate parures, suitable to the heavy, dark clothing of the mid-nineteenth century, but was still light enough to be worn with comfort.

Nineteenth century mourning fashion began with death of William IV in 1837. It gained royal patronage after being shown at the 1851 Great Exhibition. After the death of Prince Albert in 1861, the British court was plunged into deep mourning. Jet became the only acceptable material of jewellery, a fashion which then spread throughout society.
At the peak of the industry, Whitby jet-works employed 1500 men, women and children but by 1900, the boom had ended. Jet supplies had become scarcer, leading to cheaper substitutes being used, affecting the reputation of the industry. Equally, jet design did not keep up with changes to more streamlined fashions. Relaxation of court mourning meant the abandonment of much jet jewellery, which had become overly associated with mourning.

Supplies of jet were never sufficient to keep up with demand, leading to the development of substitutes. Dark red glass, known as French jet (manufactured in Bohemia), or Vauxhall glass could be substituted, along with vulcanite, a type of rubber.

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. This piece is made of 'French jet', executed in cast glass mounted on metal.

Descriptive line

Tiara,cast glass ('French jet') mounted on metal. Bohemia (now Czech Republic), 1880-90.

Production Note

Bohemia is now in the Czech Republic

Materials

Glass; Metal

Techniques

Casting

Subjects depicted

Mourning

Categories

Jewellery; Metalwork; Death

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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