The Whitby Jet Heritage Centre is located at the end of Church Street in Whitby and is run by myself Hal Redvers-Jones. In addition to producing fine hand crafted jet jewellery I am also proud to host the last remaining example of an authentic Victorian Jet Workshop.
The attached photographs feature the late Alec MacKenzie, who sadly passed in his sleep on April 1st 2010. He was and still remains a much loved and respected inspiration to myself and my pursuit of the 19th Century art of Whitby Jet carving. Alec had an abiding passion for Whitby and in particular the famous gemstone that is found in the surrounding area. He originally worked for the ICI Company in Teeside but later took early retirement to develop his growing interest in the carving of Jet jewellery. Alec's interest first started when he took a night school course in geology. Naturally, the geological formation of Whitby Jet was an integral part of this course and it was not long before Alec decided to have a go at carving some pieces. Little did he know this was to open up a whole new chapter to his life.
During Alec's early days he was fortunate to have the opportunity to speak to one of the last apprenticed Jet workers, a man named Watson Whales. Watson had been engaged in the Jet industry during the 1920's to 1940's when it was only a shadow of its former glorious past in the mid 19th century but never the less he was an accomplished carver and possessed many pieces that illustrated his high degree of competence. Alec keenly presented some of his early work for evaluation. The comment that this dour but talented Yorkshire craftsman made was that "this work is typical of the type that is currently available in the Whitby gift shops"! Watson, quite clearly, bitterly regretted the demise of the industry and this was his not so thinly disguised opinion of the standards that were evident at this time. Not disheartened, Alec continued to carve Jet and some twenty-two years later he earned the reputation of a fine craftsman and was a well-known and respected figure in town.
Alec spent many days scouring the beaches for his elusive raw material followed by many happy hours in his workshop. Although Alec's beachcombing was severely curtailed in later years by arthritic knees, this did not diminished his enthusiasm for his beloved Jet and he always sought new ways to develop his skills. Alec's other interests included listening to music with a particular fondness for Mozart. He also had an interest in Egyptology and would have dearly loved to revisit Giza where he saw the pyramids and the Sphinx whilst completing his National Service. He would have also loved to explore the Valley of the Kings in greater depth. Alec was one of those fortunate souls who found his forte in life and indulged it. It is curiously ironic that the family motto for the Mackenzie name is Luceo non uro - I shine not burn.
I myself have had a convoluted route to the present position as proprietor of the Whitby Jet Heritage Centre. My early education gave me a background in Fine Arts and my career has consisted of various design related businesses. However, there was always an underlying fascination for the skills involved in creating small beautiful items; netsuke, Faberge eggs, carved gems and such like. These small wonders served to inspire and encourage me to acquire jewellery skills in a private capacity but it was a chance meeting with Alec at a watershed in my life that sowed the idea for a new endeavour.
Having removed to Whitby and from very small beginnings we worked long and hard to build up a Whitby Jet jewellery business. We worked very well together, each complementing the others individual skills. As well as producing a range of contemporary jewellery we introduced many lines that paid homage to the carving styles of the mid 19thC. We also offered a restoration service and before long we managed to build a thriving business with a loyal clientele. A major breakthrough came when I was able to purchase premises of our own that included the incredible discovery of an 1867 Victorian workshop. This gave us a base in town were we could expand the retail section of the business and develop new ways of presenting Whitby Jet while still incorporating the traditional methods of manufacture and design.
However, as contemporary craftsmen we were always keen to embrace new technologies. One of the major new developments in technology has been the Internet and this web site has been created in response to inquiries both national and international. It marks an exciting new direction for us, which gives a small independent manufacturer a global presence. Whitby Jet is an exclusive and beautiful gemstone with a lengthy cultural heritage and I am pleased that I am now able to offer my collection of goods and services to a wider market. I would welcome any comments from customers old and new who will be assured of my very best attention.