Rare vintage Mourning jewellery
Mourning jewellery is a part of mourning etiquette. In addition, such details, as a funeral inscription on the ring, or hair lock of a deceased, like a miniature gravestone, have become great storytellers and reveal many secrets of a bygone era.
However, the tradition of mourning ceremonial, including mourning dress and, in particular, mourning jewellery was originally a privilege of the royal courts of Europe from the Middle Ages. But from the 1840s, family-mourning dress became available in couture salons, or private dressmakers working at every social level. The vast array of products included widow’s weeds, indoor caps, fans, underwear, gloves, black-edged handkerchiefs, and a huge array of mourning jewelry, including black jet and “in memoriam” rings, brooches, and lockets.
All of them represented three styles for use – first, second, ordinary, and half mourning. Meanwhile, mourning etiquette contributed to the development of early forms of plastic used in imitation of jet jewelry, and finally, to the development of modern fashion.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, signet rings occasionally had a double-sided bezel, which could be swiveled to include a memento mori motif—a death’s head, miniature skeleton, or hourglass—and symbols of decay with creeping things, such as worms, reminding people of their transience and preparing them for death.
Mourning rings were popular from about the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries, in particular during the baroque period and eighteenth century. Memorial rings with commemorative inscriptions and portraits of the deceased became fashionable, and mourning rings were given at funerals as a token of remembrance; these were black or dark blue in combination with white enamel surrounding the name of the deceased person and their birth and death dates.
In the late eighteenth century, memorial rings reached a peak together with the ritual of mourning. Large elaborate bezels illustrated death through symbols such as the broken column, the obelisk, with the most popular being the funerary urn derived from antiquity. These were often accompanied by weeping willows, cypresses, faithful dogs, and lamenting women in classical drapery, either diamond-studded or made of the hair of the deceased, against a dark blue enamel or glass over an engine-turned background.
Diamonds, sapphires, rubies, spinels, and amethysts in cabochon cut were favored by the church clerics as a sign of rank. Devotional images, such as various cross forms, the Virgin Mary, and symbolic beasts such as the Pelican and her Piety, often complemented Greek and Latin inscriptions to be worn by the devout.
In the absence of photos and other media to leave the memory of the deceased, funeral decorations, intended for everyday wear were on a par with miniature portraits and posthumous photo that appeared later, in a manner to perpetuate the image of the lover or the loved one. Among these things are often found medallions, covered with black enamel, men’s cuff links and key rings for pocket watches with locks of hair, a ring with the initials of the deceased, brooches, where the deceased’s curls decorated in a complicated pattern or thumbnail by a skillful hand of a master, or even the whole necklace and necklaces woven from the hair cut.
These decorations were quite clear and Victorians were part of a family history and a reminder of the ancestors. Hair regarded as a symbol of communication with the departed person, provided invisible and constant presence in the world of the living. It was a reminder of the inevitability of death, and a meeting with the loved ones in another, unearthly world.
Love of Victorians to such things is explained by the fact that in the 19th century mortality at an early age was quite high: the man died in the war, the children died in infancy from malnutrition and disease, women were dying in childbirth, cholera and typhoid claimed tens of thousands of victims. Death was very commonplace, and the average life expectancy was only 50 years old, so the funeral procession in the city streets for Victorians were part of everyday life.
Frightening was not so much death itself but a prospect to get away without being desired and in oblivion. It is known that during the American Civil War (1861-1865), many soldiers cut off a lock of hair for the wife or lover before going to the front, and the hair of several people dear to the heart can be worn together in a locket as a token of love and meet in heaven after death.
The end of XIX – early XX century mourning jewelry began to go out of fashion. This was largely due to the death of Queen Victoria, as well as the outbreak of the First World War and the rise of the feminist movement in England. However, many of these ornaments have survived to this time, becoming living witnesses of a bygone era forever. The price for them at antique markets in Europe and America has been steadily increasing, and interest in the Victorian age and its realities, including funeral jewellery is growing. Perhaps the explanation for this lies in the ability to feel the elusive Victorians life and appreciate every moment.
Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion. Vol. 2