One of the overwhelming aspects of the Victorian period was that of mourning, and the many accoutrements that came with its strict code. While death was prevalent at this time, the fashion for mourning clothing rose to prominence after the death of Prince Albert in 1861 plunged the whole of England into mourning.
Jet is fossilized driftwood, and was especially popular in mourning jewelry in England due to the large deposits of jet in Whitby, located in Yorkshire. After Prince Albert’s death, jewelers began to utilize new production methods and substitute materials to imitate the look of jet and keep up with demand.
“French jet” is one of the most effective uses of substitute materials. It is shiny black molded glass, usually mounted in gold or gilded metal, and often faceted like a gemstone. Unlike other substitutes such as gutta percha and bog oak, French jet has a glossy appearance similar to genuine jet. It is also not as fragile as Whitby jet, and was therefore able to be used in more elaborate and delicate pieces. Between the glossy finish, twinkling faceted edges, and intricate design, French jet pieces are shimmering, wearable pieces that are equally appealing to a modern eye. They look equally at home with a white button-down shirt as they down with a little black dress.