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Posted by Erica Jago on February 28, 2017
It is hard to believe that rubber has been made into jewellery...
But its true as there are two substances that were used, Vulcanite and Gutta Percha, both have often been confused with jet and bog oak. Read our blog to find out more about bog oak. These substances were used extensively although not exclusively in Victorian mourning jewellery. We shall deal with the Victorian era and jet jewellery in separate blogs at a later stage.
Charles Goodyear invented a technique in 1846 to harden Indian rubber by mixing it with forty percent sulphur. He then heated it for six to ten hours at one hundred and fifty degrees, producing vulcanite or ebonite. The material was used during the mid19th century to make jewellery that imitated jet in appearance although over time and with exposure to sunlight the colour faded from black to khaki. Vulcanite jewellery is moulded and often embellished with intricate designs that would be difficult to carve with hand tools. It is lightweight and warm to the touch and can be polished to a high sheen.
Gutta Percha is made from the sap of a tree that was found exclusively in Malaysia and discovered during the rubber making process. It was very durable and in its finished state had a black or brownish-black colour. It was extensively used for mourning jewellery but also for many other items such as walking cane heads, furniture, sculptures and even printing type, all of which were displayed at the Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851. Due to its lightweight Gutta Percha was the material of choice for the large dramatic pieces of jewellery that were so popular from the middle of the 19th century.
Most people do not realise that both Gutta Percha and Vulcanite can be used to imitate ivory, but the former is unstable in air over time so not many pieces have survived to this day.
At La Vogue Vintage we try to keep a number of pieces of vulcanite in stock, click here to see our current collection.