Yes, really! Bog oak was quite popular as jewelry beginning in the early 1800s and remained trendy for most of the Victorian era. When Queen Victoria went into mourning at the death of Prince Albert, she ensured that black would remain a fashion color for decades. As the fashion icon of the era, everyone tried to emulate the beloved queen. Of course, black jewelry was part of the trend and bog oak was one of the many options.
What is bog oak? Just what it sounds like - semi-petrified wood that came from Irish peat bogs. Thanks to the wood being buried for years in the bogs with just the right conditions - low oxygen and acid from the peat - the wood was preserved. These conditions reacting with the wood tannins also give the wood its distinctive look. And, incidentally, technically the wood is not just oak. The wood can actually be oak, pine, or yew.
Bog oak is surprisingly lightweight and isn’t cold to the touch like stone or metal. It has a matte finish and if you look closely, you can actually see the wood grain. This sets it apart from other black jewelry such as Jet or Vulcanite. Bog oak also almost always uses Irish motifs such as harps, abbeys, castles, ferns, and shamrocks, as well as traditional Gaelic designs. More upscale pieces might be accented with pearls or gold. Earrings, bracelets, brooches, and necklaces were made from bog oak.
Following is a quote from a leading periodical of the time describing the wood and uses for it other than jewelry.
Frank Leslie's Weekly, DECEMBER 12, 1863:
"The Irish “Bog Oak ” has been long known and celebrated. It consists of the fallen trunks of ancient oak forests, now deeply covered by accumulations of peat bog, but still perfectly sound. This ancient wood furnishes large quantities of valuable timber, which is mined from the beds in which it lies, and worked into beautiful articles of cabinet work, sculptured panels and other carving. The dark stain imparted to it by the long steeping it has undergone in water saturated with both vegetable and mineral matters, gives it a special value for ornamental wood work. Similar deposits of ancient wood exists in the vast swamps of New Jersey. These buried trees, however, are cedars and not oaks, and it is made a regular and profitable business to dig them from their beds, to be manufactured into shingles, which are said to be of extraordinary excellence and durability.
"A New York paper thus describes the timber and the process of getting it out: “These swamps are very valuable, an acre of such timber commanding from $500 to a $1,000. A peculiar feature of the swamps is that the soil is of purely vegetable growth, often 20 feet or more in depth. The peaty earth is constantly accumulating from the fall of leaves and boughs, and trees are found buried in it at all depths, quite down to solid ground. The timber so buried retains its buoyancy and color, and large numbers of workmen are constantly employed in raising and splitting the logs into rails and shingles. In searching for these logs, the workmen uses an iron rod, which he thrusts into the soil, and by repeated trials, ascertains the size and length of the wood he strikes, and then, by digging down, obtains a chip, by the smell of which he can determine whether it is worth removal.
"The number of shingles produced from the wood of these submerged forests is very great; from the little town of Dennisville, in this county, as many as 800,000, valued at $12,000 have been sent to market in a year. From the same place, thousands of dollars worth of white cedar rails are annually sent out. The deposit of timber at this point extends to an indefinite depth, and although, from the growth above it, believed to be 2,000 years old, is all entirely sound, and will supply, for years to come, the draft upon it."