Favorite decades: 1910's, 1800's, 1870's
Favorite artists: Anthony van Dyck, Giovanni Boldini, Henry Fuseli, Thomas Lawrence
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Mourning earrings, 1899-1902 US (Old Salem, NC), the North Carolina Museum of History
EARRINGS, TEARDROPS OF WOVEN BROWN HAIR ATTACHED TO DECORATIVE VERMEIL TRIANGLE, ATTACHED IN TURN TO VERMEIL MEDALLION MOUNTED ON CIRCLE OF WOVEN HAIR; FRENCH HOOKS FOR PIERCED EARS.
HAIR JEWELRY AND ART WERE POPULAR FROM THE LATE 18TH UNTIL THE EARLY 20TH CENTURIES FOR COMMEMORATIVE, MEMORIAL (MOURNING), SENTIMENTAL, AND DECORATIVE PURPOSES. DURING THE MID-19TH CENTURY MANY WOMEN TOOK UP THE HOBBY OF MAKING HAIR JEWELRY AT HOME. EARRINGS OF THIS STYLE (TABLE-WORKED DANGLES) WERE PARTICULARLY POPULAR 1850-1870. THIS PIECE WAS MADE A LITTLE LATER THAN TYPICAL FOR THIS FORM.
Mourning bracelet, 1840-60, McCord Museum
Jewellery made from hair was very popular in the mid-19th century.
Symbols of life, hair has long been associated in many societies with funeral rituals. This piece of mourning jewellery, worn during this period in memory of the deceased, was a reminder of the inevitability of death. However its price, sometimes high, also made it a symbol of social status.
When the hair was that of a friend or living relative, the piece of jewelry was worn as a token of esteem. This one, however, was no doubt made from the hair of a deceased person and worn in his or her memory. Such jewelry was not acceptable during the period of deep mourning, when only jet accessories were permitted.
Hair is a material that can be braided, woven, sown, knotted and coiled to produce all kinds of shapes and patterns. Horsehair was also used for this type of jewelry.
Not all hair jewelry was made by jewellers. Magazines explained to their readers how to make it at home.
This kind of jewelry had existed in Europe since the late 17th century.
Bracelets, necklaces, earrings and watch chains were made of both men’s hair and women’s hair.
Mourning necklace, 1875-1900, McCord Museum
Perhaps surprisingly, mourning became an occasion for increased consumption. It might seem much more natural to expect that the grief associated with the death of a loved one would result in indifference to any form of consumption. But such was not the case in Victorian Canada. Paradoxically this deeply private time gave rise to eminently public rituals. Death imposed a number of rules, the most important of which specified the details of permitted activities and dress. To abide by the constraints of deep mourning, mourning and half-mourning, for example, a widow had to have dresses, shawls, bonnets, gloves, handkerchiefs and underwear in strictly codified colours. For many months, only black jet jewellery was allowed. To those who followed the codes, mourning was a time of heavy spending.
This heavy necklace with a gothic cross and medallions decorated with small flowers, probably pansies, is designed for mourning. It is made of a synthetic material imitating jet, a black stone.
Jet is a precious stone found in abundance near Whitby, England. In the Victorian era, the town had many manufacturers of jet jewellery.
According to the rules of mourning, no jewellery was to be worn in deep mourning, the length of which depended on the degree of relationship to the deceased. Next came mourning, during which only jet was permitted, followed by half-mourning, when either jet or gold could be worn.
The owner of this necklace, who is unknown, was expressing her taste for the gothic, a style much in vogue in the 19th century. She also showed her very Victorian knowledge of the symbolic language of flowers, in which pansies represent thoughts.
Brooch, 1754 England, the Victoria & Albert Museum
Hair had long been important in sentimental jewellery, but during the 18th century it took on a new prominence. It could now form the centrepiece of a jewel, arranged in complicated motifs or as plain, woven sections. Tiny fragments of hair could even be incorporated into delicate paintings. Some designs were made by professionals, but many women chose to work the hair of loved ones themselves, using gum to secure their creations.
Hair jewels were worn to cherish the living as well as to remember the dead. The survival of many pieces celebrating love and friendship indicate their great social importance
Mourning tiara, 1880’s Bohemia (modern-day Czech Republic), the Victoria & Albert Museum
Jet is the fossilised remains of driftwood. In Britain, the main source is Whitby, in Yorkshire. It became particularly popular in mourning jewellery in the mid 19th century.
The custom of wearing mourning dress was encouraged by Queen Victoria’s prolonged mourning after the death of her husband Albert in 1861. Formal mourning required black crepe or bombazine clothes along with ‘a few trinkets to accentuate the general sombreness of the costume’. This tiara shows that jet or its substitutes was worn at the highest level of society: only those above a certain social class would have had the occasion to wear a tiara. It is interesting that it is made of ‘French jet’, a cast glass substitute for jet. As supplies of jet were not sufficient to keep up with the demand, dark cast glass known as ‘French jet’ or ‘Vauxhall glass’ was often used.
Mourning ring, ca 1787 England, the Victoria & Albert Museum
This ring and its pair are inscribed ‘Cease thy tears, religion points on high/ CS ob.25 Jan 1787 aet 70/ IS ob. 18 Sep 1792 aet 72’. They are mourning rings, possibly for a couple with the initials CS and IS who died aged 70 and 72. On the front of the ring, a vase of drooping gem-set flowers symbolises mourning.
Collar, 2551-2528 BC Egypt, MFA Boston
We have something that looks like this for our girl kitty because she’s an Abyssinian mix. It’s so cute.