Our Halloween special: Victorian mourning jewelry

Although mourning jewelry had been around for at least a couple hundred of years, these accessories really came into vogue during the Victorian Era.  After her husband Prince Albert died, Queen Victoria descended into mourning for the rest of her life and her grief had deep influence on the customs and fashions of the time.

Queen Victoria in mourning.

Queen Victoria in mourning.

Huge quantities of black jewelry flooded the market but the most popular and precious were the pieces crafted from Whitby jet, the Queen's chosen adornment of grief. Other materials commonly found in mourning jewelry included black enamel, black glass, onyx, vulcanite, and pearls... to symbolize tears. 

In Victorian times, bangle bracelets were worn as matching pairs; it is rare today to find a complete set. These mourning bracelets are gold and black enamel.

In Victorian times, bangle bracelets were worn as matching pairs; it is rare today to find a complete set. These mourning bracelets are gold and black enamel.

And, of course, there was hair.

Hairworking was an art practiced by professionals in workshops as well as ladies with leisure time in their own homes. Memorial jewelry made with hair could take the form of an intricately braided watch chain, a ring with a bezel containing hair, or a pendant featuring an elaborate work of hair embroidery.  While the basket weave pattern was commonly used in brooches, other images also appeared over and over such as the heraldic badge of the Prince of Wales and landscapes with mourning ladies, weeping willows, and departing ships.

A nineteenth century hair brooch.  Image from Wikipedia.

A nineteenth century hair brooch.  Image from Wikipedia.

Mourning was organized in phases and the deep dark black of jet was preferred during the strictest period. It was often worn in the form of highly polished faceted bead necklaces or chains of carved links.  Mourning lockets, also, were usually carved in jet and might contain a lock of the departed's hair or his photograph. There were jet brooches, crucifixes, and cameos.

This beautiful and sentimental onyx pendant is a stunning example of the mourning jewelry worn in the Victorian era. A hardstone cameo is surrounded by an intricate gold frame embellished with seed pearls.

This beautiful and sentimental onyx pendant is a stunning example of the mourning jewelry worn in the Victorian era. A hardstone cameo is surrounded by an intricate gold frame embellished with seed pearls.

References

Jewels: A Secret History. By Victoria Finlay.  An non-fiction adventure through time and place exploring the history of gems.

Understanding Jewellery. By David Bennett and Daniela Mascetti.

Jewelry: 7000 Years. Edited by Hugh Tait.

Victorian Jewellery. By Peter Hinks.