LONDON. A tiny sample of Whitby jet spied at a rock and gem fair in England in 2002 is the reason for London-based jewelry designer Jacqueline Cullen’s love affair with the material. In a previous life, Cullen, founder of the eponymous jewelry design firm, studied visual and performing arts, with theater and sculpture installations in mind. She shifted gears to obtain a bachelor of arts in jewelry design from Central Saint Martins, where she explored the possibilities of using jet in modern jewelry.
“I first used jet for my degree final collection at Saint Martin’s in 2003,” she explains. “It suits me aesthetically—I like black and gold—and creatively, because we work with the material in a very sculptural way using lapidary equipment. It has also made sense businesswise as nobody else has thought of reinterpreting this heritage material in such a modern way.”
Today, Cullen’s 11-year-old jewelry firm makes the pitch-black gem—a type of fossilized wood found in the coastal town of Whitby, England—the core of her signature style, along with 18k yellow gold settings.
Her jet is faceted into geometric shapes, hand-carved fissures, and landscapes that look like crevices, volcanic eruptions, and “lightning strikes ripping open the sky,” she says.
Her supply comes from Whitby, home to most of the world’s jet—including the most stable—and where it became popular in the 19th century. (Jet is found in a few other countries, including Spain.) The process of obtaining jet in Whitby is a dramatic one that involves Cullen’s “supplier rappelling down cliffs on the North Yorkshire coast to source raw specimens from disused mines and ancient caves,” she explains. You won’t catch Cullen doing any of that, nor will you nab the name of her supplier. “His identity is kept secret and I hate heights!” she admits.
Cullen enlists the help of local lapidary cutters to help preform the jet, which she hand-facets and finishes in her workshop. An in-house goldsmith handles the jewelry fabrication and setting of diamonds, which are as black as the jet. Cullen sets only 1 mm round black diamonds into her jet styles. Why this tone-on-tone look?
“Black diamonds are the only stone that can be set directly in the jet and not need a metal backing to keep their light,” she says. “There are hundreds of them that give the look of pinpricks of light playing on the surface of the jet.”
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