A Bit of the Macabre for All Hallow's Eve - Mourning Jewelry

In recognition of this evening's Trick-or-Treat tradition, I thought it might be kind of fun, albeit a bit macabre, to discuss a type of jewelry that has been around for centuries - Mourning Jewelry.

Happy Halloween!

Although widely associated with the Victorian Era when it became mass produced, mourning jewelry has been a part of the human jewelry tradition since at least the 16th Century.  After the death of Prince Albert in 1861, Queen Victoria, as well as members of her court, wore black clothing and matching mourning jewelry for decades as a form of remembrance.

Mourning brooch made from jet.  Victorian example, English circa 1880s.

Just like today, the Royals set an example that became widely fashionable - black jewelry.  The best pieces were made out of jet, a fossilized coal found near Whitby, England.  Less-expensive alternatives included: black glass, black enamel, vulcanite (a hardened rubber,) and bog oak, which is more of a brown color but still conveys somber sentiments.

Mouring brooch made from bog oak.  If you look closely, you can almost see the wood grain.

One of my personal favorite examples that I find incrediably interesting is mourning jewelry that features hairwork.  These examples can be seen in many forms - bracelets, necklaces and rings.  And, here's a surprising fact, the hair was not necessarily from the deceased!

This pendant made from woven hair is a simple example of mourning jewelry.

In the middle of the 19th century, more than 50 tons of human hair a year was imported to England specifically for use by the country’s jewelers.  So that the connection to the deceased loved one was created, their initials were often discreetly woven into the object.

Woven hair example of a mourning brooch set in jet.

In addition to the commonly seen brooches and ring, lockets were also popular. Some contained a lock of the deceased person’s hair or held a photo of the departed. The photo lockets were actually the evolution of miniature portraits, which had been very popular early in the century and had historically been used as mourning jewelry to honor deceased monarchs. Carved cameos or silhouettes were also way to remember someone.

A unique example of a mourning brooch featuring seed pearls & a miniature portrait of a grieving relative sitting by the tombstone of their deceased loved one.

A close cousin of mourning jewelry is sentimental jewelry. Sometimes the forms were used interchangeably. For example, that lock of hair might have come from one’s fiancĂ©e, so determining whether a piece of jewelry is true mourning jewelry or merely sentimental can be tricky.

Several examples of mourning jewelry.

Either way, I find them both to be stunning examples of the human condition and of our attachment to those who have come and gone before us.  What is not to love about that?!?!

Stunning woven hairwork example.

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