Antique Memorial Jewelry, also called Memento Mori Jewelry is very collectible as you will see below.
We are very lucky that we live in a day and age with a low mortality rate. Before the advent of modern medicine, death was an ever-present part of life. Most people lived with the loss of loved ones, whether they be children, spouses, friends or family. Death was a much bigger part of life than it is today.
Traditionally, in our society, black is the color of mourning. Black is the color chosen to remember those who have passed away. Depending on the degree of mourning, there were ‘shades of black’. If someone close to us died recently, we would have worn deep black. As time went by, a lessening of the severity was admissible and purple or blue were allowed. If the deceased was a less distant relative, the color code was relaxed.
Memorial jewelry became very popular during the Georgian era with rings and brooches showing weeping women next to urns under weeping willow trees. During this time, many men were lost at sea and naval symbolism is often included. This is also because the anchor was a symbol of steadfast love. Also very popular during this era were little rings with a ring of black stones surrounding a locket of the loved one’s hair. Black earrings, necklaces, pendants and bracelets of the period can also be found. Often the jewelry was engraved with the message ‘Memento Mori’ or ‘lest we forget’.
When we think of Antique Memorial Jewelry, the first thing that comes to mind is the unusually intense mourning that Queen Victoria steeped herself and the entire country in after her husband died. People were expected to wear black for decades.
Fortunately, a form of solidified carbon, like coal, was mined near a town called Whitby. Known as Whitby jet, this material was commonly used for mourning jewelry in England at that time. Whitby jet has been depleted and the only jet of this form that is available is found in antique mourning jewelry.
Whitby jet is not to be confused with French jet, which is actually glass.
Other materials used to make black jewelry, whether for mourning or fashion purposes, are onyx and enamel. Elegant black jewelry was made through the centuries, much of it in France from circa 1800 onwards. Sometimes the austerity of the black jewelry was alleviated with delicate seed pearls, emeralds, or diamonds.
Today, black is worn more as a fashion statement than as a symbol of mourning. Fortunately for the fashion-loving woman, there are wonderful long, pendant earrings to be found that date as far back as the Directoire era (pre 1800). Rings, necklaces, bracelets or bangles and pins to match are available and if you are very lucky, you can find a whole set, called a parure, of matching jewelry.
As the period of full mourning began to pass, there were periods of half mourning. Yes, shades of grief. They were expressed by various shades of gems that symbolized the degree of mourning. Amethysts and then sapphires indicated the passage of time since the passing.
Memorial jewelry often includes lockets of hair from the beloved deceased. This is not necessarily to be confused with other sentimental jewelry or the fad and rage for hair jewelry that took place during the Victorian era.
A huge resurgence of the use of skulls and cross-bones is taking place right now. Hundreds of years ago, jewelry, especially rings were adorned with these symbols of death. Sometimes a skull might be carved or molded in sculptural form or in high relief. At times, black enamel against a gold background would be used to represent these symbols. Jewelry with skeletons is outrageously expensive right now – when you can find it.
Antique memorial jewelry is a wonderful area for collectors. Classic and timeless this jewelry can be worn by anyone by day or night, for smart or relaxed attire.