Black became big in the Victorian Era - both for aesthetic reasons and for the growth of mourning jewelry, pieces deemed appropriate to wear during the long period of tribute to a departed relative. Jewelers used several different substances and often they're hard to distinguish, especially as some were developed deliberately to imitate rare, natural materials. Here are several varieties of Victorian black jewelry, with tips on recognizing them, compiled with the help of Lisa Stockhammer, president of The Three Graces, a web-based antique and estate jewelery retailer.
In this feature, we'll cover French jet, vulcanite, bog oak, Berlin iron, onyx, cut steel, and of course, jet.
Jet, a type of fossilized wood, was perhaps the rarest and most prized black material used for jewelry. It's light in weight, and soft and warm to the touch. Seen under a loupe, it often has tiny fissures or chips. Jet can be carved or faceted, but even when precisely cut, it shines rather than sparkles. Touched by a hot pin (very carefully and in an inconspicuous place to avoid damaging jewelry) or run under hot water, Stockhammer says, "it may smell earthy or coal-like" - since it is indeed a type of coal.