Vulcanite: A Fashion Trend

Rubber Victorian jewelry? Yes indeed!

Upon the death of Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, black jewelry became the height of fashion as the queen chose to wear black the rest of her life. Consequently, black jewelry was fashioned from a wide variety of materials. One of those materials was Vulcanite.

Vulcanite is a substance formed by combining sulphur and India rubber, a natural rubber, and then heating - or vulcanizing - the mixture. It becomes a hard, black material, originally intended to take the place of ebony wood. Charles Goodyear is generally given credit for developing the process and his patent occurred in 1844.

Vulcanite (sometimes called Ebonite) can be confused with other substances such as Gutta Percha, Jet, French Jet, or Bog Oak. It helps to know that Vulcanite is a molded material with rounded edges, not carved with sharp edges like Jet or French Jet. It can be polished to have a matte sheen, but the finish will never be as glossy as Jet or French Jet. Bog Oak has growth lines since it is wood, but Vulcanite does not.

Gutta Percha is also a molded material, but it was almost always used for making utilitarian household and commercial items such as boot soles and gussets, buttons, carriage belts, tubs, pails, cables, golf balls, etc. Vulcanite, on the other hand, was used for every imaginable type of jewelry - earrings, brooches, watch fobs, lockets, etc. Originally manufactured as black jewelry, over time Vulcanite can turn brown.

Another way to try and identify whether or not the material is Vulcanite will be to rub the piece and if it is Vulcanite, it will smell like rubber.  If all else fails, you can do a taste test. Yes, actually lick the piece!  If the item tastes salty, it’s Gutta Percha. If not, it’s Vulcanite. If you don’t want to do the taste test, assume that the jewelry is Vulcanite and you’ll be right most of the time.

Here are some pictures from my collection. And just for fun, at the bottom is a pair of earrings in my shop made with genuine vintage Vulcanite! 

Victorian Vulcanite Lockets and Chains. Holly Sheen Collections.

Victorian Vulcanite Pendants. Holly Sheen Collections.

Victorian Vulcanite Bracelet. Holly Sheen Collections.

Victorian Vulcanite Brooches. Holly Sheen Collections.

Victorian Vulcanite Hair Combs. Holly Sheen Collections.


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