Jacqueline Cullen is a British contemporary jewellery designer who creates hand-crafted pieces out of rare jet: a prehistoric black fossil previously associated with Victorian mourning jewellery. We came across her beautiful work when Brand Director Georgia Fendley became Jacqueline’s mentor as part of the Crafted programme, which supports contemporary British craft.
Jacqueline spoke to us about her work, her inspirations and the skills of working with jet, as well as sharing some of her sketches, jewellery pieces and the gorgeous, refined packaging created by London-based design agency and long-time Mulberry collaborators Construct London.
“Jet is simply fossilised tree trunk (from an ancestor to the monkey tree) from approximately 180 million years ago. It first became commonly used as Victorian mourning jewellery: Queen Victoria wore it after Prince Albert died and this started a trend. However, the jet fell out of favour with designers and around 100 years ago it stopped being mined altogether. I use Whitby jet: it’s better quality than you can find abroad, but it’s not easy to come by! A contact of mine abseils down the cliffs in Whitby to access small old mines and caves which contain it. You certainly don’t come across it accidentally.
There are designers who still work with jet but this is mostly based on Victorian replica jewellery. I work with the jet in a very contemporary way: manipulating it into shapes and edges that interest me, and I’m often inspired by dramatic acts of nature – volcanic eruptions, erosion, the beauty in the imperfections of nature. Jet is not always easy to work with: it is extremely dusty, and I have to use specially-designed tools like diamond-tipped saws and water beds to control the levels of black dust produced. It is so interesting to work with though, no two pieces I create are ever the same: the texture of the jet means one piece may be more jagged or corrupted than the other. I can do approximations of the same design, but it is never a complete match – a piece of jewellery from me is unique to you.
As a jeweller, your bench peg is your best friend. It shows all the work that went into the production of a particular piece, you can see all the wear and tear – it’s a lovely craft story in itself. I know many people who keep theirs even when it can no longer be used, as it tells the story of all your creations.”
Packaging images courtesy of Construct
All other images courtesy of Jacqueline Cullen