Etymology -- Jet Black

Can Anyone tell me where the phrase “jet Black” originated from? It has to have been around since long before we had Black Jets (i.e. the SR-71 and now the Stealth Fighter/Bomber). My theory is that soot from early jet engines blackened the fuselages of the planes they were attached to. Am I nuts or just wrong?

Thanks for your Help.

You are not nuts. But you are wrong. :slight_smile:


A little bit about jet.

No Victorian widow was fully dressed without her string of jet beads. I understand that when warmed, as by the sun, they smelled distinctly of coal.

:sound of backspace key struck repeatedly:
Ya beat me to it, DDG

From Terms of Adornment: The Ultimate Guide to Accessories by Deborah Chase.


It was the death of Prince Albert that rocketed black jet stone to the most important jewelry material to the second half of the 19th Century. When her beloved prince consort passed away in 1861, Queen Victoria began a period of mourning that was to last for more than 25 years. During this time she wore black mourning clothes and only black jewelry. The rest of England followed suit…and the little mining town of Whitby on the Yorkshire coast mined the jet from their clifs and became the source of mourning jewelry for all of Europe.

…Whitby jet is a brown-black substance formed by the effect of heat and pressure on ancient driftwood. It is extremely lightweight and can be cut and carved into extraordinary shapes…

The term “jet” is used interchangeably for similar black jewelry. Bog oak from the peat bogs of Ireland was a popular jet look-alike in the 1800s…French jet is actually black glass backed in lead. Somewhat less fragile, and definitely less costly, French jet was molded into elaborate constructions of flowers, hearts, and stars, all connected by nearly invisible wires.

In the Southwest [United States], American jet is called Apache Tears, and often was used in combination with turquoise and coral. Jet has a subtle, faceted shine that complements minimalist clothing…

Then too, there are several types of black pigments, fromed from burning as you stated in the OP:

  • lamp black (from the soot formed on a dish held over a open-flame lamp),
  • bone black (from the soot formed from a burned animal bone [I use chicken or mouse - readily available]), and
  • ivory black (from the soot formed from burned ivory [I don’t do this one]).


I’d always rather be nuts than wrong.

Thanks for the Info. It’s funny, the M-W website is usually the first place I look too…