I was asked some really serious questions about identification so I’m going to get a bit technical, but it will be worth it, I promise. When I’m done, you’ll be picking out gutta percha from vulcanite and bog oak from jet to the amazement of all your friends.
Let’s start with Bog Oak since it’s one of the easiest things to identify. First, Bog Oak isn’t just oak. It can actually be three different wood species: Pine, Yew and Oak. Each of these turns a different color after thousands of years of exposure to tannins in bogs so the color itself is a good way to identify it. Oak changes to an almost black color, yew changes to a reddish brown and pine turns a golden yellow. None of the other substances are a golden yellow or reddish brown so if it’s one of those two colors, it’s bog oak.
JET: The only other of the four substances that’s remotely natural and therefore carved is jet. Jet is essentially “petrified” wood. It’s decayed wood that was compressed under layers of sediment and pressure to form a coal-like substance. Jet started to form in the Jurassic period. Bog oak became what it is only a couple thousand years ago. That’s a huge difference. Whereas with bog oak, you can still see that it is wood, in the case of jet, it’s not really wood anymore. It’s more like stone than wood so you won’t see growth lines. Jet can take a very high polish so you will see a surface more like glass. Since glass was the biggest imitator of jet, you have to worry more about mixing up jet and glass than mixing up jet and other Victorian jewelry substances like gutta percha and vulcanite.
That takes care of the “carved” materials. I say that because knowing how these things are made and what they are made from will help you identify them. Bog oak and jet are carved. Anything carved will have tool marks. If it has tool marks, it’s either bog oak or jet. Static electricity will help you separate them, along with the presence or lack of visible growth lines.
Now… gutta percha and vulcanite.
Vulcanite is the last of the materials. Another rubber-like substance made from more tree sap mix with sulphur, it will also be molded and not carved.
Now you know more than anyone should ever know about alternative Victorian jewelry materials and small sporting balls. You may now go forth and impress antique store owners and golfers with your newly acquired knowledge.
If you have jewelry made from any of the materials in this blog, I want to hear from you! Send me a picture of how you wear your jewelry on Jewelry Nerd’s Facebook page. I’d love to feature you wearing your jewelry in an upcoming blog!