Jet, Vulcanite Or Horn? - Antique Jewellery Tips To Tell The Difference

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Welcome to another instalment of 'Blog Post Monday'.  Thanks for joining me!

I've been busy again this week sourcing interesting pieces for you lovely lot.  I had a trip to Sheffield and had a wonder around their antiques quarter, which was rather good fun.  It was during that trip that I found a lovely piece of jewellery in one of the centres and it's this piece that's the subject of today's post, well, more the material that it's made of actually...

So, as always, get that kettle on, get your black jewellery out and let's see if we can't work out some ways to tell the difference between Jet, Vulcanite and Horn...


Image:  My pointing hand brooch 


It was this piece (pictured above) that I stumbled upon on my treasure hunt and subsequently bought.  A rather lovely antique Victorian pointing hand brooch.  Now, initially, I thought that it was made of Whitby Jet and it wasn't until I got it home that I started to question this.


Image:  The scratch mark left by my brooch 


The usual technique that I've been taught is to rub the item against a piece of paper and if it leaves a brown mark then it's Whitby Jet.  So, that's what I did, and whilst it did leave a mark, it wasn't brown (pictured above)...  Not only this, but I had to press harder than I would normally expect for a mark to appear...


Image:  My pointing hand brooch


So, ever so slightly confused about what it could be made of, I sent some pictures to my pal Claudia, aka Wren and Rust.  She deals in antique jewellery, particularly from the Victorian era, so I knew she'd be able to help.


Image:  My pal Claudia, aka @wrenandrust - Instagram


From the photos, Claudia said that her opinion was that it was made of horn.  However, she pointed me in the direction of a wonderful Whitby Jet specialist on Instagram, @the.jet.setter, who she said had posted a super video all about telling the difference between Jet, Vulcanite and Horn.


 Image:  Rebecca aka @the.jet.setter 


I watched the video (link at the end of this post) and learnt so much!  This is why I absolutely adore this job!  It was super helpful so I feel the need to share these tips with you all.  So, here we go:


View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Heritage Jet (@heritagejet)

Image: A lovely example of how Whitby Jet can be polished to a lovely lustre from

 Image: A lovely example of how Whitby Jet can be polished to a lovely lustre from @heritagejet


Whitby Jet

-  Scratch test should leave a brown to ginger mark.

-  Warm to the touch.

-  Can be polished to a lovely lustre.

-  No screws are used on Jet because it would shatter.  Instead, pins are always glued.

-  Every other link on a Jet chain is whole and every other link is in two halves and pegged/glued together.

-  Jet should not smell when rubbed because it's a natural material.


Image:  Example of intricate patterns used on vulcanite courtesy of David Duggleby.



-  Scratch test should leave a brown to ginger mark.

-  Rub it and smell it it.  It should smell a bit like burning rubber.

-  Warm to the touch.

-  Colour of Vulcanite will fade in sunlight over time from black to brown.

-  Intricate patterns, particularly in lockets, suggest vulcanite moulds have been used.

-  Screws used to attach pins.

-  Every link on vulcanite chains has one join in it, so look for join lines.


Image:  Example of screwed pin on a brooch made of horn



-  Scratch test should leave a greyish streak.

-  Screws used to attach pins.


 Image:  Rebecca, aka @the.jet.setter - Instagram


I would highly recommend giving Rebecca, aka @the.jet.setter , a follow on Instagram and if you have any doubts, you can give her video on the differences between Jet, Vulcanite and Horn a watch here


Video:  Rebecca, aka @the.jet.setter explaining the differences 


Well, that's it for this week folks!  I hope you've enjoyed this little insight into the complex world of antique jewellery and I hope you've found it useful.  As always, let me know what you think in the comments section below, it's always lovely to hear from you.


Image:  A very happy and thankful me


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So, until next week, stay safe, keep buying those antiques and keep spreading that Source Vintage love!




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  • Jenny on

    Thank you so much for sharing this Stephen, I have a lot of Jet pieces & know the paper test, I knew the real Jet compared to French.. easy.. but the Glue vs Screw & the rubber smell.. genius.. I was today yrs old when I learned this.. I am also going to follow the.jet.setter – Again thank you .. Jenny from wild witch emporium etsy. :-)

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