This organic material is a type of lignite coal, which is actually carbonized driftwood. Jet is usually warm to the touch and becomes electrically charged when rubbed with wool. Its name is derived from the old French jaiet, which came from the Latin word gagates after the River Gages, where it was first mined. It has a low to moderate hardness and is easily burned. It is extremely lightweight, making it ideal for large pieces of jewelry. Only clean jet with warm, soapy water.
Jet has been mined since before recorded history. Amulets of jet have been found together with amber in ancient European ruins. The Pueblo Indians were known to bury jet with their dead for protection in the afterlife. In the 16th century, jet was believed to be black amber and commonly used in rosary beads. Jet was also burned by the wives of sailors to protect them at sea. Jet later became fashionable in Victorian England, where it was popular as mourning jewelry. Many cultures, including American Indians, still use jet for prayer beads and religious sculpture.
Jet has historically been considered protective against illness, the evil eye and personal attacks. Jet is an important gemstone for the first chakra, thought to strengthen psychic awareness. England is the major source of jet, but other suppliers include Canada, France, Germany, Spain and the U.S.A.