Coal as jewelry

I just received a surprising email which suggested that coal in
general may be better jewelry than I suspected. 

If you Google Whitby jet there are a number of sits which show jet
jewellery. Some have been in business since Victorian times. Whitby
is where Captain Cook came from and Bram Stoker of Dracular fame

Robin Key
Clavis Jewellery
Aberdeen, Scotland

Has anybody tried urethane or varathane on coal, although as Tony
says tripoli and rouge may do the job.

I’m wondering how this might work as wall or fireplace tiles and
ornamental stones (set not too close to the fire pit, haha). The
black colour contrasted with some lighter stone in the project with
proper room lighting could be quite attractive.

I had used coal as a crushed mineral mixed with epoxi resin, wet
sanded and hand polish in alpaca jewelry about 20 years ago.

Thank you for that. If you google on Coalmont, BC, you will see how
creating such a museum might be an excellent project for the historic
town. Other than direct carving of coal, there is the prospect, noted
elsewhere (by Ian Wright ) of making mold and cast figurines out of
coal dust and epoxy or other bonding material.

The next time I get some coal I will try mixing it with thin set
mortar or even Portland cement. I’ll pour it into jello molds. Maybe
there are some other cheaper plastic-like materials other than epoxy
for large scale units. Lighting effects (even flourescent lighting)
on translucent figurines using plastic and coal might be quite

The coal of the Coalmont-Princeton area almost made Princeton the
capital of BC. Historically some say BC would have been annexed to US
without the coal-fueled railroad going through that area linking BC
with the rest of Canada. The Fraser Canyon War of 1858 was
essentially a war between the US settlers in towns with place names
like Yale and Boston Bar with their militia and BC loyalists who were
First Nations (mostly Sto Lo and Okanagan) and United Empire
loyalists. The mainstream US military was poised to come in and
support the militias. The US military has a burial site on
Chilliwack Lake for a US soldier accidentally drowned there in the
early 1800s. BC was over-run by Americans. You might say coal saved
us and preserved liberty and justice for Canada.

Thus I vote for coal as BC’s official fossil. With so many brilliant
chemists around I do expect to see a “clean coal” era and the
recycling of all coal products. BC then has enough coal to fuel this
country for centuries.

Sorry for being stubborn, but jet is not anthracite, nor another
sort of coal nor lignite. For a good explanation, see:

We use coal in the fire place and it’s something completely different
than jet. Jet is actually a great material to work with and it takes
a fantastic shine. There is a lot of fake jet around. One of the
tests to see if the jet is real is to poke it with a hot needle -
some of the jet is bakelite and some is coal with a binder. According
to the guy from Yorkshire coast fossils, youcan smell the difference.


19th and 20th Century coal miners that mined the coal seams on the
west coast of the south island in New Zealand fashioned heart shapes
from coal. The cover art of Jenny Pattrick’s book “Heart of Coal”
shows an example of a piece of coal jewellery. As an aside her books
are very good.

Victoria Finlay covers Jet in her book (2 different titles depending
where you live)

Buried Treasure: Travels Through the Jewellery Box: UK English
edition OR Jewels: A Short History: American English edition

craig in NZ
Craig McIntosh

I had a sterling silver cuff bracelet more than 30 years ago that
had a cameo carved from coal bezel-set on the front. I lived in
Virginia at the time and it was bought in a local store. The cameo
was not shiny, more of a satin. It never broke or chipped, but I was
very careful with it.

I cherished that bracelet because it was so unique. Then someone
stole it from my high school gym locker during PE. If you see one
around, let me know.

Sorry for being stubborn, but jet is not anthracite, nor another
sort of coal nor lignite. For a good explanation, see: 

Nice page, though one should note that the owners/authors of that
page would have a distinct interest in distinguishing Jet from coal.

If you spend a bit of time browsing through the various Wikipedia
entries for coal types, as well as geologic periods, etc, several
things become clear. For one, there are many types and subtypes of
coal. All are fossilized forms of one or another type of organic
material, from bog,peat bog materials, to woods, And other such
material, compressed over time. The various types of coal differ
greatly in things like carbon content, water content, geologic age,
and characteristics like color, apparent structure (like wood, for
example), value as fuel, etc.

The descriptions given for Jet in your page pretty closely match
those described for “xyloid lignite or fossil wood” with perhaps the
exception that Jet is slightly older.

Yes, jet is not just ordinary coal. But there really isn’t any such
thing as ordinary coal. The term covers a very broad range of
materials. Some coal, such as hard anthracite is almost metamorphic,
being almost to the stage of conversion that it gets close to
graphite, while others, such as the youngest of the lignites, are not
converted too much past the stage of a partially carbonized peat bog,
with as little as 25 percent carbon content and still a lot of

Jet is distinct in it’s age, the type of water the wood originally
was deposited in (salt/fresh), the type of wood itself and the
"driftwood" nature of that wood. So the material is distinct as a
type. But it IS a type of coal. It’s distinct characteristics make it
very suited to the gem material uses it’s put to. But put it in your
furnace or stove, and it will burn just like other lignite coals will
do. A distinct material different from other coals, yes of course.
But it’s still a type of coal.

By the way, the Whiteby web page you like to starts it’s first
paragraph with an incorrect statement. It calls jet a semiprecious
stone. Jet is a fossil, but an organic one. It is, as the page says,
a unique type of fossilized wood. That is not stone nor mineral. But
organic material.

The page also says “fossilized wood”. That is correct. But it would
be better if more completely described as being partially carbonized
as well. Once you do that, you’ve almost also described the similar
subtype of lignite coal called zyloid lignite. The main difference is
that most zyloid lignite is from the early tertiary period, while
Jet, at least that from Whitby, is rather older.

You can split hairs on whether to call the stuff one thing or
another. It certainly deserves it’s own gem name, “Jet”. But it’s
also accurate to include it as a type of coal, a term which
encompasses a broad range of related carbonized organic matter

Peter Rowe

Nick Royal,

I have tried to contact you offline, but the e-mail address is
incorrect. I would love to try carving a piece of jet.

My Grandmother had several pieces that I remember her wearing, and I
was fascinated by them as a child.

If you would send me a piece of jet I would be happy to reimburse you
the postage from the UK. (Won’t customs have a lark wondering why
anyone would mail coal half-way across the world.)

Rose Peterson Myers

Just because there’s a page on the web about something does not mean
that the page is authoritarian.

If you define “coal” as all fossilized plant material:-

then accept that “Jet” is plant material that is fossilized:-

then jet is a type (subset) of “coal”.

There are many types (subsets) of coal of which jet is one.

I’ve done quite a few repair jobs with jet, usually signet rings and
the like. I’m not a lapidary, and I’ve only cut them flat or
cabochon, but my experience with them is positive. I wouldn’t call
them proper gems, by any means, but they are quite nice, and they
can, as someone has said, be polished with a normal jeweller’s lathe.
We have two types at work - the firstis slightly laminate, but quite
soft, and similar to working with ivory. The second is whitby jet.
I’m aware of the reputation the Whitby stuff has, but it might need
specialist equipment to make the best of it - I found it harder,
brittle and difficult to polish. But it is much heavier and denser,
and I reckon that if you do manage to get a good polish on it, it
probably holds the finish for longer.


Sorry for being stubborn, but jet is not anthracite, nor another
sort of coal nor lignite. 

Thanks, Leach. I haven’t posted on this because I used to cut a lot
of " jet" in the turquoise inlay business, but that doesn’t make me
a jet expert. I guess it could be argued that Leach’s (Whitby) jet is
still a form of coal, because that’s what coal is, in general. But
that would be quibbling and/or professional geology.

I will say that the jet we used in Albuquerque was very different
from the pictures Leach links to, and it probably WAS anthracite as
opposed to the Whitby jet. Ours was much softer, could never take
the shine that some of the specimens have in the link, and we never
found any fossils at all. Just big chunks of (comparatively) soft
black rock, some were two pounds or better… Lots of dust, too…


I reviewed the you referenced regarding the geological
process by which jet is formed. That is the process which forms
coal. Coal is the fossilized remains of ancient organic matter. Jet
is the fossilized remains of a type of wood which is of course
organic matter.

Not to belabor the point…but belaboring it nonetheless… here
are references which further back up the statement that jet is a
kind of coal:

Schumann : “Gemstones of the World” revised and expanded edition,
p.226. “Jet (the name of a river in Turkey), is a bituminous coal
which can be polished”

Liddicoat: Handbook of Gem Identification, 12th ed. “when it is
touched by a red-hot point the odor is similar to coal”

Arems: Color Encyclopedia of Gemstones,1987 ed…, “Jet is a
fossilized wood, actually lignite, a form of brown coal.”

Philip’s: Gems of the world, p. 236 “Jet is a type of brown coal, a
fossilized wood of the ancient species of auraucaria”

Wodiska: A Book of Precious Stones (copyright 1909) 6th printing, p.
189, “Jet is a soft, compact light coal of a lustrous black color
and can be highly polished”

And last but not least:

Bariand and Poirot: The Larousse Encyclopedia of Precious Gems", p.
143, “avariety of lignite produced by the carbonization of conifer

Jerry in Kodiak

To Jet, or not to Jet?

I guess it depends on the jeweler and their location. It seems to me
Jet would fall into the ‘curiosity’ category. Having no appreciable
intrinsic value, I personally wouldn’t invest much time/material on
spec. If I had a client who wanted something Jet custom, well that’s
a different thing.

I think you’d have a hard time finding Jet on Fifth Avenue. But
lately I’m thinking I’m a narrow minded snob maybe. Of course any
Jet you do find there is apt to be something really special. Still,
how many people want Jet? Can you make money with it?

To prosper, or not to prosper?

I am Irish. We burn coal in a stove or a fire place. We used - and
some still do - dig up peat in bogs. We burn turf on top of the coal.
Coal is dirty, dusty and, for the most part, fragile. It will rub off
on anyone touching it and therefore coal, by and large, is not
suitable for jewellery making.

Jet, on the other hand, is not dirty, creates no dust and can be
filled, burred, sawed, drilled and polished. It’s possible to take a
piece of jet, to drill a hole into it, to make a gold ring from sheet
with the same outer diameter as the hole in the jet, to force the
ring into the hole and to gently flare it on both sides with a
hammer. It’s easy to construct a syllogism using coal and jet as well
as to establish that jet has the same chemical composition of coal as
well as a similar geological history, but for all practical purposes
and speaking from a life word perspective of people, if you hold the
stuff in your hand, jet is not coal. If you would go to Withby and
ask for a local piece of coal, I guess people would be insulted, the
knowledge of chemical properties notwithstanding.


Jet, on the other hand, is not dirty, creates no dust and can be
filled, burred, sawed, drilled and polished. 

Your comparison and contrast between your local coal and jet is
indeed a pretty big difference. But it considers only your local
version of coal. The definition of coal encompasses a very wide range
of materials. Not all coal is dirty, dusty, or all that fragile. It’s
a group of materials, not a single one, sharing a common general
process of formation and a similar, though not identical, range of
original material source, then modified by similar processes, but
through quite a range of geologic times and conditions. It’s all
coal, but certainly not all coal is alike. The term might be
considered a bit like the term “Garnet”. Garnets too, are a family of
closely related gems, sharing a similar sort of structure, and
related chemistry. But there are a wide number of distinct types,
with distinct chemistries, colors, and properties. Each has it’s own
varietal name, usually. But all can be grouped into the family of
garnets. The term coal seems somewhat similar. There are multiple
types, with broad variations between and even within types.

Certainly, your local coal deposits seem dramatically different from
your local Jet, which is well deserving of it’s gem reputation. But
other deposits of coal in other parts of the world do not always
match your local Irish coal. Some is quite different. There are
deposits of hard anthracite, for example, that became quite famous as
fuel for locomotives, since both the coal itself, and the smoke from
the locomotive burning it, didn’t turn everything and everyone on
the train black with coal dust and ash. Period advertisements for the
stuff featured illustrations of ladies dressed all in white, the
implication being that they’d stay that way on trains that featured
this premium fuel. That sort of material is pretty different from
what your local coal deposits sound like.

I certainly understand the special consideration you give to your
wonderful Witby jet deposits. The stuff is indeed special.

But in the end, my dear, it IS still a form of coal. A very
different one from the stuff you usually are used to calling coal,
but it’s still a form of coal.

Jet forms from a specific and unique original source organic
material. But other coals also each form from their own original
material, even if not quite so unique. The process of formation is
similar, and the end chemistry and structure of jet is also similar
to that of coal in general, also with the provisio that each type of
coal will have it’s own unique individual properties within the
broader classification. We are fortunate that jet formed with the
unique set of proporties that it did, since this gives us a wonderful
gem material.

But don’t let this distract you from the basic principals by which
the materials are classified and identified. Jet is not just any
coal. it’s a special case. But still within the classification of a
type of coal.

Peter Rowe

Neil, Send me your e-mail address and I will send you some pictures
of jet jewelry. I didn’t make them myself, a guy who won a
competition with it did - I forgot his name, but I have the pics.


I initiated this thread because people like Senator Neufeld (cc’d)
are deciding on what BC’s “official fossil” will be. This is a fun
exercise which all BC people can participate in and it has been fun
(and informative) on Orchid. Thanks to all for their feedback. I’ve
enjoyed it. It does also have considerable economic importance and a
serious side.

I walked down Granville Street which is the major commercial street
in downtown Vancouver and the jewelry store (Birks I think) carried
some crystallized replacement fossils for shell fish in its display
window. IOW they have jewelry value. Tragically, about that time I
also witnessed a double homicide at a nearby jewelry store. I was
across the street and I thought I heard gun shots or fire crackers
(I was not sure) and a man rushed out of the store with a brief case
full of jewelry. I was not sure what I

had witnessed but the 6 o’clock news confirmed it and the police
sketch of the perp was the man with the briefcase I had seen rushing

Would anyone kill for a briefcase full of coal?

Would Birks display coal fossil fuel in its window beside one carat

I have lots of diamonds here … on saws and drills. I can buy a
dozen or two of these diamonds at Canadian Tire store for $20 on a
small drill bit. Point being that diamonds can be cheap or expensive
and so why not coal? If Michaelangelo can carve a piece of stone
worth $10 into a million dollar work of art, why not also a piece of

Maybe BC could also have a coal carving contest.

A family member recently showed us some nail polish with immersed
glitter. I don’t know what the shiny particles are but they give a
colourful display. Maybe powdered or crushed coal in resins as you
suggest would do the same. Then there are surface effects.

I am now working tons of stones into backyard projects like rock
gardens. Lighting and water effects count for a lot in the aesthetic
outcome. We just put some solar lights on a rock garden. I am
researching various finishes at the hardware stores which might work
as well as water. So far water is best. One of the projects is a
water fall fed by a garden hose which feeds the water over a stack of
junk jade.

Shape/geometry is so important in stone masonry. The most drab and
mundane stones can be shaped effectively into a nice looking wall.
That stone water fall could have its value multiplied many times
depending on how the stones are shaped and how the sunlight catches
the water running over the jade surface into the pond.

Try putting a dab of clear finger nail polish or epoxy or urethane,
varathane etc. on some soft and brittle but glossy coal.

Does it still rub off?

Does it retain a nice sheen?