Monday, June 11, 2012

Beautiful Blue John Stone

In a corner of Harrods there used to be a little section called British Heritage that I loved to visit on my way to or from the food halls. :) It was there that I first learned about many items of British origin, including Lady Clare place mats and a rare and beautiful natural form of calcium fluorite with blue and yellow bands, that had been used to make stunning jewelry and accessories. Unique to Britain, the stone is called Blue John, an anglicised version of its French name, blue et jaune (blue and yellow).

Blue John stone is found primarily in Derbyshire, with the largest deposit in the Blue John Cavern near Castleton, where it was discovered by the Romans 2,000 years ago. One source says that two Blue John vases were found at Pompeii, and from the 17th to 19th centuries it was used to create extraordinary decorative items for many of the stately homes in Britain. (One thing I still haven't sorted out is how it came to have a French name if the Romans found it in Britain...)

I remember being so awestruck by the very large Blue John pieces at nearby Chatsworth, home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, that I decided to visit the mine and see the deposits for myself. What an experience! The elevator that took me down to the cavern was tiny and a bit rickety, but once inside the cavern, the amazing sight of the stone in its natural setting was well worth the somewhat nerve-wracking ride.

Blue John Cavern

Sadly, there isn't much Blue John stone left, and what little mining there is today is done mostly by hand, but tourism is a big business and you can go see the wonders of the cavern for yourself. That elevator has probably been replaced by now...

You can buy jewelry made of Blue John stone in the gift shop, and if your budget is really large, you can even find much, much larger pieces through antique dealers. My only piece is this small pendant, a souvenir of my visit to the mine, that I came across over the weekend when I was organizing myself. Seeing it again got me thinking about this beautiful stone, how I learned of it and the places it led me.


2 comments:

  1. Sandy. If you want to see Blue John Stone in abundance visit Treak Cliff Cavern, where there are big deposits still actively mined.

    ReplyDelete
  2. How I would love to do just that, and it's good to know that Blue John still exists in abundance, after all. Thanks for writing.

    ReplyDelete