Jet was once alive. Most other gems are mineral or resin, but Jet was once pure wood. It was formed 170 million years ago from forests. They were not ordinary forests but composed of just one particular type of tree, propagating in an aggressive natural monoculture.
Jet trees were an unusual conifer with spiky banded trunks, lower branches having cones as big as a human head. Despite becoming extinct in most of the world after the prehistoric period, this tree's foliage created such darkness on the forest floor that it stifled everything around it. It is known by its official family name Araucaria.
Jet beads were found in 4,500-year-old Bronze Age barrows in Yorkshire and in funeral pyres in Derbyshire and Scotland long before the Romans arrived. As we know from the Jet being intact while the body was gone, they were scattered on funeral pyres after the flames had died away.
Also, we know that the Romans enjoyed Jet. Later, they exported it to the empire during their occupation of Britain. Archaeologists found a Roman Jet workshop in York's railway station in the late nineteenth century. Several gorgeous-shaped pendants were found in a cave, identical in workmanship and material to pendants found in 1846 in two roman coffins under the fourth-century church of St. Gereon in Cologne.
There are deposits of Jet in India, China, Russia, Spain, and the United States, a pitch-black gem that is actually coal. However, the best Jet on the planet is found along a seven-and-a-half-mile stretch of rugged coastland near Whitby, a remote fishing village in Yorkshire.
Jet became immensely popular when Queen Victoria, distraught over the death of Prince Albert in 1861, made it a regular part of her mourning attire for the next 40 years. But "the designs didn't evolve," stated Ms. Cullen, a London designer credited with some of the renewed interest in jet jewelry. Jet jewelry became something of a historical curiosity. Today, a handful of small businesses in Whitby sell it to tourists.
It was believed by ancient Greeks that wearing Jet would invoke the favor of the gods. In the same vein, the Pueblo Indians buried Jet with their dead. They believed it would protect the deceased in the afterlife. Ancient cultures believed Jet could defend against the evil eye, impending illness, domestic abuse, and personal attacks. It is also said to protect against depressive negative energies. Jet absorbs this energy, so many people believe it should be exposed to sunlight frequently to remove the negativity it traps.
Kindling jet fumes were believed to ward off snakes, relieve suffocation of the uterus, and detect preserved virginity by Roman miners in England.
Among the healing properties of Jet is its purported ability to cure fevers and ease toothaches. Since Jet is lightweight, it is an excellent choice for large jewelry pieces, and many jewelers and craftsmen continue to use it. In addition, Jet and silver are becoming increasingly popular due to their stark color contrast (much like black onyx has become a hot commodity for stainless steel manufacturers).
Jet is named after the French word Jaiet, derived from the Greek word lithos gates, which means stone of Gagas. Jet was discovered in Gagas, Turkey, however, Whitby, England, is the world's most famous jet location. Throughout the 1800s, Whitby's economy was entirely dependent upon jet extraction. It also had a flourishing carving and polishing industry. As a result, Whitby is today regarded as one of the most reliable sources of Jet.
In comparison to other stones, Jet is relatively easy to care for. It polishes well and makes a good carving base.
Sources and credit: Jewels, A secret History by Victoria Finlay