Sentimental Jewelry 6 Antique Mourning Jewelry post 180
Memento Mori / Mourning Jewelry - part 1
#6693 Victorian earrings.
We have discussed how jewelry forms a concrete link with the past. It links us to those we love, both alive, and sadly, those who have passed away. We are well aware of the shorter life-expectancy and high child mortality rates of previous centuries.
Death and the loss of loved ones was an integral part of life in centuries when pandemics were more common, medicyne in its infancy and death ever-near. Sadly, children died young from a variety of reasons, childbirth was often life-threatening and even a common cold could spell the end for otherwise strong and healthy people. The Grim Reaper lurked around every corner. There were strong behavioural norms for the bereaved and these included permissable clothing and jewelry according to the stage of mourning.
Black was the obvious color of mourning, but half mourning allowed for dark blue, grey or purple and unmarried women showed their loss by the use of white. Half mourning also allowed for greater flexibility and the extent and duration of mourning periods depended partly on the sentiments of the reigning sovereign and personal choice.
#6833 Mourning ring for unmarried lady.
Since Death was such a huge part of life in those times, the industry of Mourning Jewelry was enormous. Jewelry depicting sadness and sorrow abounded, as did the symbolism that accompanied it. We might associate a butterfly with joy and beauty, but it was actually a symbol of the soul, usually departed, and therefore a sign of sorrow.
There was a whole range of mourning symbols, including women weeping under willow trees alongside huge urns, various animals including earthworms, and flowers and a whole lexicon that we have subsequently lost. Skulls and crossbones are still death symbols today and are pounced on when found, in particular by a new generation of collectors - the very young.
Also very popular with collectors are mourning rings featuring snakes. Memorial rings in the form of a snake consuming its own tail (Ouroboros) are quite often found. The ouroboros is a symbol of eternity. The back of the jewelry will usually be engraved with the details of the deceased.
Mourning Jewelry is highly collected by old and young alike, perhaps for different reasons.
5953 memorial snake ring
skull crossbones ring.
Often Mourning rings incorporate a lock of hair of the loved one. Hair would be cut from the deceased with the purpose of converting or incorporating it in memento jewelry. This should not be confused with hair jewelry that represented nothing beyond aesthetic decoration or the hair of a living loved one. We will dedicate a post to this unsavory subject that constituted a lot of jewelry in the day.
#5646 jet earrings.
Mourning jewelry was made of a wide variety of materials. Black enamel on gold was very common. During the Victorian period, a carvable form of black coal, called Jet, was mined at Whitby in England and carved into an enormous variety of mourning jewelry after the death of Prince Albert.
There are entire books devoted to Jet Jewelry and during the Victorian period, it was ubiquitous. A lot has survived until today.
French Jet is actually faceted glass that was made in Bohemia. Other look-alike materials such as vulcanite and bog oak were also used to make specifically mourning jewelry. Not everyone could afford gold jewelry. For many people, mourning jewelry was made of silver or gilt metal with the same sentiments engraved on them and the same attention to detail as the more expensive gold jewelry.
French jet bangle.
Mourning jewelry was made in every form. Rings, brooches, earrings, pendants and necklaces of various sorts as well as parures or sets of matching jewelry can be found in black.
#6073 elegance of mourning jewelry today.
Today, women seek out mourning jewelry for different reasons. Fashionistas know that black matches everything, black is elegant and no less important, black is slimming. We may have forgotten the original reason this jewelry was made and the sadness behind it, but it is a joy to know that these same antique jewels are still being worn, hundreds of years later and bringing joy and light into peoples' lives.