Everyone processes loss in their own way, and for many, commemorating or immortalising their loved one’s memory is a big part of this. For the Victorians, mourning was a prominent element of life, and a pragmatic approach to death came with the with low life expectancies at this time. However, Victorian jewellers found a macabre yet beautiful way of celebrating the lives of people who had passed—mourning jewellery. 

What is mourning jewellery?

In essence, mourning jewellery was any piece crafted to commemorate a loved one who had passed away. As we could expect, mourning jewellery normally looks dark and gothic in nature, but the meaning behind it is ultimately touching and heart-felt. 

Many pieces of mourning jewellery take the symbolism of remembering someone close to you one step further, incorporating something from the person themselves in the item of jewellery, such as a bit of their hair or even a tooth! For many, involving hair or a tooth in Victorian jewellery might push the boundaries of gothic style a bit too far—but the sentiment is touching nonetheless.

Although mourning jewellery is most often associated with the Victorian era, it actually has roots in Georgian England. The first known example of mourning jewellery becoming popular was after the execution of King Charles I, when many royalists chose to wear faceted Stuart crystal pieces to mourn the King. 

It wasn’t until the death of Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, however, that mourning jewellery really took off. After he passed away, Queen Victoria and the rest of the country took their mourning seriously. In fact, she wore a mourning ring in memory of Prince Albert for the rest of her life

What materials were used in mourning jewellery?

Mourning jewellery can take many different forms, as long as it included something that would forever be reminiscent of the loved one it was made to remember. Often, pieces such as lockets or rings contained a compartment in which a piece of hair could be stored and immortalised. 

Other materials that were commonly used in the creation of mourning jewellery include pearls, which signified the death of a child or represented tears; black onyx, obsidian, jet, and hematite, which represented grief; and white enamel to mourn the passing of a young woman. 

When photography became more widely available as a medium, small photographs began to be incorporated into mourning jewellery. This was most common in lockets or woman’s brooches which were in vogue at the time. In addition, pieces would often involve sentimental inscriptions. Phrases such as, “not lost but gone before,” “we must submit” and “in memory of” were all particularly popular. 

Is mourning jewellery seeing a comeback?

Antique jewellery was designed the outlive the wearer, and thus, pieces of mourning jewellery have been passed down through the years. Many such pieces have been kept within the family, their tragic stories intact. Others, however, have survived beyond their tales, and it is difficult to uncover the true history behind many intriguing pieces. 

Despite this, antique jewellery remains popular – and sometimes the intrigue of not knowing the full story adds to the beauty and the mystery of these pieces. Many people have encountered a more gothic stage in their fashion choices at some point, but as we head towards Halloween and winter, goth-chic is making a comeback. This updated gothic style, however, will veer away from neons and safety pins, but, instead, embrace a more sophisticated and elegant aesthetic, during upon Victorian influences such as lace, corsets and (of course), mourning jewellery. 

Whether you opt for an antique piece, steeped in mysterious history, or choose a bespoke piece, designed specifical to remember someone close to you, there is undoubtedly sentimental and aesthetic value in Victorian mourning jewellery. Would you add some to your jewellery collection?

Sources

https://www.elle.com/fashion/a29580707/goth-trend-resort-2020/https://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/discover/objects-love-and-loss-mourning-jewellery

https://www.wnyc.org/story/sideshow-mourning-jewelry-morbid-touch-of-class/

Image Sources

https://www.acsilver.co.uk/shop/pc/Agate-and-Enamel-15-ct-Yellow-Gold-Memorial-Pendant-p8452.htm

https://www.acsilver.co.uk/shop/pc/Black-Enamel-and-14-ct-Yellow-Gold-Mourning-Ring-Antique-Circa-1840-35p11261.htm