Humans have been using jet in jewelry for thousands of years. The earliest jewelry pieces were found in Asturias, Spain, dating from 17,000 BC. Early Romans viewed jet as a magical material and used it in amulets and pendants for its protective qualities. Due to its somber color and modest appearance, jet became popular is mourning jewelry during the 19th century and for making rosaries. Long strands of jet were also popular among flappers during the Roaring Twenties. Today, jet has gone out of style, but it remains popular with two groups: Cubans and Wiccan high priestesses.
Us Cubans call it “azabache” in Spanish and wear it for protection against the Evil Eye. It’s common to see babies wearing a bracelet of them or a piece pinned to clothing.
As a Wiccan, I’ve always respected jet as a stone that, together with amber, denotes a priestess’s position in the Craft. I never owned jet until I was elevated to the third degree of the Georgian Wicca tradition and was gifted a strand by my high priest. For years, I have admired (and still do) beautiful amber and jet necklaces on high priestesses and in the stands of many Pagan vendors. And I’ve often wondered how many of them knew the jet was fake.
Like many industries, the jewelry industry follows trends and produces that which is in demand. Jet has not been in wide demand for years. Much of what is passed off as jet by jewelers and retailers – both Pagan and not – is imitation. Usually they don’t even know it. I’ve yet to meet a Pagan jeweler or vendor that is a geologist; they simply purchased stones that someone else assured them was jet, strung them together with amber, and put a hefty price tag on it.
So what is jet and how can you tell the real from the imitation?
Jet is a mineraloid and is derived from decaying wood under extreme pressure. Jet is generally black or dark brown, but there are different grades of it and may contain inclusions such as pyrite or carbon. Jet is light, dull, warm to the touch, and ranges from 2.5 to 4 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness (the hardest known naturally occurring substance, diamond, is a 10 on the scale).
Poor substitutes for jet include glass, plastic, and onyx. These imitations are easier to spot because the beads are too perfect, too smooth, highly polished or too shiny, and cool to the touch. Onyx is heavy and plastic will melt and smell, well, like burning plastic. Touching a red-hot needle to jet will cause it to emit an odor similar to coal. I’ve also seen kukui nuts passed off as jet. These look pretty good, but feel too light and hollow.
Anthracite (a hard, compact variety of mineral coal) and Ebonite (hardened rubber) are more commonly used to imitate fine jet. Distinguishing these from the real thing is almost impossible. Under 120x or greater magnification, you may be able to distinguish them from real jet, which strongly resembles wood up close.
Let’s say you suspect or discover that your jet is imitation. The question that follows is, “Does it matter?”
Only you can answer that question. Amber and jet is considered a magical combination and both may induce an electric charge. Wiccans also value symbolic substitutes and some may find that imitation jet is just as magical and powerful as the real thing.
What do you think? Is it important to you to have real jet?