In antique jewelry, there were several different types of metal finishes for gilding or silvering jewelry that were frequently used to achieve the look of solid gold or silver without costing quite so much. From fire-gilding to mercury mixes and mechanical bonding, each method is unique in the technique used and the effect achieved, producing products of varying quality.


Ormolu pinchbeck chatelaine incorporating scissors case, needle case, etui and two thimble cases, probably England, 1730-35 - ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London



Pinchbeck


Pinchbeck, invented by London clock and watchmaker Christopher Pinchbeck in the early 18th century, is a form of brass (copper and zinc alloy) mixed in the right quantities to resemble gold. Since the gold for sale at that time tended to be 18-carat quality, Pinchbeck could be made to look very similar to gold jewelry and was just as durable while costing a lot less. It's also known as 'poor man's gold'. Sometimes, pinchbeck was specifically used to make traveling or "stagecoach" jewelry so that if it was stolen while someone was traveling, which was not uncommon in those days, it was not such a costly loss.


Original Pinchbeck was made by the Pinchbeck family until the 1830s. Gold was scarce in the 18th century and early 1800s so Pinchbeck became very desirable, but Christopher kept the formula for his invention - 87% copper and 13% zinc - a secret, passing it on to his son who continued the work for a short time. After this, crooked jewelers tried to pass pinchbeck off as gold to make more money from it, and began using other cheap gold alternatives like gold casing and gold plated or gold filled to imitate Pinchbeck, never quite equalling its quality.


The name Pinchbeck was eventually used to indicate tacky or cheap imitation gold, though it never began as such. Good Pinchbeck pieces should really be Georgian, dated no later than the 1830s, and there should be no evidence of gold coming off (which would indicate plate or gold filled). With the legalization of 9 karat gold in 1854, Pinchbeck soon fell out of use completely.


Pinchbeck chatelaine chased with figures probably representing Apollo and Minerva in a shagreen and fabric case, England or Germany, c.1730. Contains scissors and a pencil holder. - ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London



Pinchbeck 24" chain necklace embossed with tiny stars on every link and with a 200-year-old patina, c.1800-1820. The barrel clasp of this chain is a late Victorian addition but matches the color of the chain perfectly - From Aesthetic Engineering Fine Jewels and Antiques via RubyLane



A Prince of Wales twist chain, c.1820 - Antique Jewellery Company



Georgian Pinchbeck Guard Chain with small colored paste stones adorning the clasp - Antique Jewellery Company



Georgian era pinchbeck spiral woven necklace, English, c.1830 - via 1stDibs



An antique pinchbeck necklace of interlocking oval and circular ringed links with half-ball spacers, completed by a heart-shaped padlock clasp decorated with emerald, ruby, and white paste atop a filigreed pattern, c.1830 - Via 1stDibs



An engraved pinchbeck heart with a locket fitting to the reverse, c.1820 - Antique Jewellery Company



Incredibly detailed antique Georgian bracelet made of Pinchbeck with four hand-painted porcelain portraits framed and inset on elaborately decorated panels, c.1820 - via 1stDibs



Georgian matching wide twin Pinchbeck bracelets - From @madamebrocante via Instagram



Georgian Pinchbeck bracelet with a heart padlock - From @madamebrocante via Instagram




Vermeil/Silver Gilt


This type of gold plating goes by many names: vermeil, gold vermeil, silver gilt, or gilded silver. As is perhaps obvious from its name, this involves coating silver with a light layer of gold. Before the use of electrolysis in gilding, the fire-gilding method was used. This involves applying an amalgam of gold and mercury to an object of silver. The mercury evaporates when the piece is fired in the kiln, leaving a gold deposit on the surface. After this, the piece is often burnished.


It was often done using 14k yellow gold, as the gold needed to be at least 10 karats and 2.5 microns thick, on sterling silver or fine silver. Imitations of vermeil sometimes used yellow lacquer on silver leaf. To identify vermeil, you must know the base metal, gold thickness, and gold quality of the piece. The marking number "925" can also be a good identifier - if you spot this on a gold piece it means that the jewelry is 92.5% silver, so you can assume that it is vermeil.


Gold ring, formerly enamelled, the hoop decorated with oval reliefs depicting Christ as the Man of Sorrows and Instruments of the Passion, England, 1500-50. - ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London


Coronet, silver-gilt. The circlet is inscribed 'MISERERE. MEI. DEUS. SECUNDUM. MAGNAM. MISERICORDIAM. TUAM'. (Pity me, Lord, according to thy great mercy), England, early 18th century - ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Silver-gilt girandole earring of pierced floral design, set with white pastes, Italy, 1800-1850. - ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London


Three silver-gilt scent cases. Left: Silver-gilt in the form of a snail, Germany, 17th century. Middle: Silver-gilt, in the form of a crowned heart, Germany, 18th century. Right: Silver-gilt in the form of a frog on a leaf, Germany, 17th century. All - ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London.


Antique late 19th-century vinaigrette, sterling silver with gold vermeil on the head, fins, and interior - via 1stdibs


Late Victorian silver gilt bracelet studded with turquoises - From @goldhatpin via Instagram




Ormolu


Ormolu, from the French "dorure d'or moulu", which means “gilding with gold paste”, was widely used in decorative arts across 18th and 19th century Europe. As a way of achieving the unique appearance of gold without such an expensive price tag while still creating something of high quality and durability unlike cheap faux-gold, Ormolu's popularity persisted over hundreds of years. The earliest examples of French Ormolu are from the mid-17th century, and France remained at the center of Ormolu production throughout its usage, though some very fine examples were being manufactured in other countries by the 19th century.


The technique of Ormolu involves applying powdered high-carat gold mixed with mercury to an object of bronze. The piece is then fired at a temperature that evaporates the mercury, leaving behind a gold deposit that can then be burnished or matted to create an impressive and highly durable coating. In French, the technique is known as "bronze doré", in English, it's called "gilt bronze". Master artisans working in Ormolu include Jean-Jacques Caffieri, Pierre Gouthière, Pierre-Philippe Thomire, and Matthew Boulton of Birmingham, who produced English ormolu pieces in a Neoclassical style without much financial success, but they are now known as some of the finest examples of English ormolu ever produced.


Before electroplating was invented, using mercury amalgams was the best choice for producing a smooth, thick coating of gold or silver on a three-dimensional object. However, by 1830, concerns over the health impacts of working with mercury meant that legislation in France soon outlawed its use. The life expectancy of most gilders was only 40 years. This didn't seem to present quite enough of a deterrent though, as Ormolu production continued using traditional processes well into the 1900s. A substitute made to look like Ormolu was later developed in France, called pomponne, though the mixture of metals (copper, zinc, and sometimes tin) is technically a type of brass.


Glass pendant with sulphide and ormolu mount depicting Alexander I, Emperor of Russia. France, made by Bertrand Andrieu for Desprez factory, 1815. - ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London



Enamel miniatures on copper with ivory backing in ormolu frames with mother of pearl, depicting William, 7th Baron Brooke (left) and Lady Mary Brook (right), c.1716, Christian Friedrich Zincke. - ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London



Ormolu was more commonly used in other decorative arts, particularly for mounts. Here is a Chinese porcelain vase with the royal arms of France, painted in underglaze blue, famille verte enamels and gilt and mounted with French and English ormolu - Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2022 - and two bowl stands made of marble and ormolu, c.1798 - © The Trustees of the British Museum


Gold-Filled


There is a common misconception that gold-filled jewelry is less valuable than other gold plating, but it is actually much more valuable than most. Gold filled refers to a base metal (often sterling silver) with a thick layer of solid gold rolled out into a sheet and then mechanically bonded to it using heat to melt the gold into the base metal. Gold-filled metal has the thickest and highest quality coating of any gold coating, as the gold layer must make up at least 5% of the item's total weight, which can be anywhere from 50 to 100,000 times thicker than gold plating. As a result of this, gold-filled jewelry can last anywhere from 5-30 years, depending on how it's cared for.


For identifying gold-filled pieces, common stamp marks include:

  • GF (Gold-Filled)

  • 1/20 14K (meaning 1/20 parts, or 5% 14k gold)



Antique Victorian gold-filled cane top or walking stick handle in the form of a muzzled bear with cropped ears - via 1stDibs



19th-century gold-filled amethyst intaglio fob, c.1840, depicting a small hare or rabbit jumping across the top of the piece near the bale. - Via 1stDibs



Victorian Tri Color Gold Filled Bangle. Late 19th Century with tri-colored gold applications on Etruscan work base - via 1stDibs



Victorian Gold Filled Garnet Brooch from the late 19th Century. Scrollwork etched motifs and leaves surround 3 flat-cut oval garnets. c.1880s, USA. - via 1stDibs



Antique Victorian 10K Rose Gold Filled Ornate Wide Bangle Bracelet - From @sweetrosevntg via Instagram




Rolled Gold


Like gold-filled pieces, rolled gold is created through mechanically bonding a layer of gold onto a base metal (often brass or copper), but while gold-filled pieces require the gold to make up at least 5% of the item's total weight, rolled gold only requires 2.5% gold content. That said, these pieces were still much more durable and high-quality than most gold-plated pieces.


Patented in England in 1817, rolled gold became a very popular choice for high-end costume jewelry in the Victorian era. Being virtually indistinguishable from solid gold, designers could create lasting and highly intricate rolled gold statement pieces without accruing the steep cost of solid gold. Some 19th-century rolled gold pieces might be stamped with the word "Gilt", other common rolled gold stamp marks include:

  • RG (Rolled Gold) or RGP (Rolled Gold Plate)

  • 1/40 14K (meaning 1/40 parts, or 2.5% 14k gold)


Stamped rolled gold (copper alloy with gold plating) brooch with pearl, France, about 1880; made by and marked 'FIX' - ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London



Victorian era dendritic moss agate link bracelet, c.1880, crafted in rolled gold and comprised of seven agate links that form a bracelet. Surrounding each agate stone is a golden bezel and an ornate frame with etched details. - Via 1stDibs



Victorian rolled gold watch chain with orb charm/fob - From @strangeandreclaimed via Instagram



Miniature antique rolled gold leaping boar charm - From @doyoulikemyring via Instagram




For more rare Georgian and Victorian jewelry, follow Antique Animal Jewelry on Instagram.

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Antique jewelry is classified as antique when it's over 100 years old. That means that a lot of antique jewelry is fragile and needs to be worn with care. That’s not to say that you should keep them hidden away in a jewelry box or a display cabinet, you should absolutely be showing off your beautiful antique finds, but you should consider where you’re wearing them and how to keep them looking at their best.





Wear With Care


As with most jewelry, it’s not recommended to wear your antique jewelry while exercising, as this can scratch or dirty your pieces, and sweat can cause reactions in some materials. You should also avoid wearing your antique jewelry while cleaning or gardening, because the harsh chemicals often found in cleaning products and common gardening products can have a damaging effect on antique gemstones and metals.

Take off your antique jewelry, especially rings, while cooking. Not only can they come loose and get lost or dirty while you’re kneading dough or crumbling pastry, but the heat from whatever you have simmering in your pots and pans can also cause some jewels to crack or discolor. Even with great settings that have been professionally checked, the age of the precious metals and the stones in antique jewelry mean that they can come loose easier than in more robust modern jewelry, so be careful with them.



Make-up, deodorant, perfume, hairspray, and lotions can all cause problems with antique jewelry. For instance, antique gold and silver can get stained, and the surface of antique pearls can begin to dissolve when exposed to these products. For this reason, you should remove your jewelry when applying any of these, or make sure that your jewelry is the last thing you put on when you’re getting ready. This can also help to avoid catching your pieces on your clothes. Your products should be perfectly dry before you put your jewelry on.




Cleaning Your Antique Jewelry


Firstly, and most importantly, you should consider carefully when and how your jewelry needs cleaning. Cleaning antique jewelry too aggressively or in the wrong ways and with the wrong things can damage the pieces beyond repair. In some cases, the jewelry may not need cleaning at all, and you might just be scrubbing off what makes the piece special.



Antique jewelry is not meant to look pristine, new, and gleaming bright. With that in mind, patina - which is slow oxidation resulting in a kind of green or brown film on some metals - is sometimes viewed as a flaw that needs to be "cleaned off". However, patina can only be achieved through many years of aging, lending greatly to the antique character of the jewelry, so much so that it's often mimicked in fakes or non-antique pieces to make them look more realistically vintage. In a way, patina is the physical manifestation of the rich history that makes the piece antique. Polishing away patina on old rose or yellow gold antique jewelry can not only erase a lot of its character but can also leave it more vulnerable since patina acts as a kind of seal that protects against destructive rust. Removing patina can also destroy the value of a piece.


Another fundamental note is that some antique pieces are extremely fragile. In these cases, the pieces may be dirty and it may not be possible to clean them, at least not more that a gentle brushing and buffing with a cloth, because any kind of pressure from cleaning could break them or the dirt accrued over time may actually be holding the pieces together. This does not detract from their collectability as beautiful records of workmanship and historical fashions, but it may mean that the piece is not as wearable, and you should be very wary of cleaning these pieces.


If you want an rare antique piece totally dismantled, inspected, cleaned, stones replaced and so on as I have seen suggested be aware that you are inherently changing what that antique piece is, and its history.



What to Clean with


When your antique jewelry does need cleaning, it's important to know that different materials, settings, and stones require different methods and mixtures. For example, it's strongly recommended that you avoid using any harsh chemicals like ammonia or household cleaning products that contain bleach. While gems like modern diamonds can handle stronger chemicals, antique jewels need much gentler care. You should also steer clear of salt water, as it can corrode certain metals.


You can make your own, gentle cleaning solution with lukewarm water and mild, non-ionic soap. Bear in mind that dirtier items don’t need more pressure or more aggressive cleaning, they simply need more time and patience, so go gently but persistently with soft cleaning tools. Some materials or antique pieces shouldn’t get wet at all, so you may not even need a cleaning solution.



Ultrasonic machines for cleaning jewelry should also be avoided with antique jewelry. Unless your antique pieces are made from very sturdy metals with very tight settings, the vibrations of ultrasonic machines can knock stones loose and damage your piece.



Metal by Metal


Closed Settings:

Not pieces to wear in the shower! - A Spanish openwork spray of flowers set with garnets in closed settings, c.1800-1860 (left), a Spanish pendant earring set with five clear pastes in closed settings, c.1865-70 (right) - ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London


Do not get stones in closed settings wet. It doesn’t matter what kind of gemstone it is or what metals the piece contains, if the stones are set in closed settings water can get trapped behind them and weaken the glue or cause corrosion. It will also damage any foils used in the piece. Instead, use a cotton bud dipped in pure, clear alcohol. After cleaning in this way, rinse very gently with another cotton bud dipped in water, then dry with new, dry cotton buds.


If your stones aren’t in closed settings, follow this advice for your metals:



Platinum:

Left: A platinum and gold woven basket filled with enameled and gem-set flowers, Paris, c.1890. ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Right: Chased gold and platinum brooch set with a pearl in the form of a squirrel on a branch, with cabochon ruby eyes, c.1890. © The Trustees of the British Museum


Clean your platinum pieces with soapy water and a soft toothbrush. Dry with a soft, clean cloth. Platinum is a hard metal that’s more durable and less likely to break than silver or gold, but this also means that it can scratch other pieces when stored or worn together, so try not to store or wear platinum pieces with softer pieces.



Gold:

Left: Gold slide with an enameled skeleton holding an arrow with the initials IC on a background of hair, England, c.1700. Middle: Chased gold brooch set in the form of flowers, c.1840-1850 Right: Gold sphere-ring or armillary sphere chased with scrolls and engraved with signs of the zodiac, stars, and other figures, German, c.17thC. - ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London & © The Trustees of the British Museum


With gold, a higher carat weight means a softer metal, which means that it can get scratched or damaged more easily. Try to wear similar carat weight items together so that they stand less chance of damaging or scratching each other. Clean gold with a soft, lint-free cloth. This will help to make it look its best while maintaining the patina. Rolled and plated gold will wear if rubbed too much, so watch how often you clean your pieces.


Silver:

Left: Silver shawl-pin with panels of animal interlace and scrolls in relief, British, c.1851. Right: Oxidised silver and gold demi-parure of a pendant and a pair of earrings with cupids, shell motifs, and pendant beads, Italy, c.1870 - © The Trustees of the British Museum.


Wearing your silver regularly will make it less likely to discolor and keep it in good condition. You can polish your antique silver with a clean, soft cloth like a dust cloth, or soak it in warm soapy water (it should be safe to immerse silver in water) and use a soft toothbrush to remove any more troublesome dirt. Allow the piece to air-dry on a few sheets of clean kitchen towel.


Both Gold and Silver are particularly susceptible to damage by chlorine, so don’t wear your gold and silver pieces to the pool!



Dos and Don'ts


DON'T GET THESE WET OR TOO HOT: Ivory brooches bearing stag, deer, and horse motifs with scrolling leaf ornament, c.1830-1860 - © The Trustees of the British Museum.


Don't submerge the following in water to clean them: Under no circumstances should you get closed settings, ivory, or enamel wet. Don't submerge opal, pearl, and turquoise, which are relatively porous and will lose their luster. Also, amethyst, aquamarine, beryl, citrine, kunzite, and quartz, all of which can discolor if overexposed to water.


Don't use warm water with: amber, carnelian, coral, malachite, pearls, and turquoise. Instead, use a moist cloth and dry immediately with a soft, dry cloth.


You can submerge the following in water: Jet and silver. If you are going to soak pieces to wash them, do it in a bowl so that you don’t risk losing them down the sink.


Don't expose the following to heat: Pearls, opals, and ivory, which crack and chip easily when exposed to heat. Additionally, aquamarines, emeralds, and sapphires can shatter when immersed in hand-hot water.


Don't expose to intense light for extended periods of time: Amethyst, Aquamarine, Beryl, Citrine, Kunzite, Quartz, Turquoise, and Topaz. These can all discolor if overexposed to strong light or direct sunlight.




Gem by Gem, Material by Material


Pearls:

Left: Pendant with a border of half pearls and embroidery of two birds under faceted crystal, England, c.1700. Middle: Pair of gold girandole earrings set with pearls and garnets, Italy, 1820-1867. Right: Gold and enamel pendant mounted with a wax relief under glass, framed in pearls, England, 1798. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London


Since pearls are extremely soft, you should always wipe them after wearing them with a soft cloth or slightly damp chamois leather to remove anything picked-up over the day that can do long-term damage. For the same reason, avoid wearing pearls with other, harder jewelry so as not to scratch them. That said, wearing pearls regularly helps them maintain their luster. Pearls don't do well with high heat, as they have a high water content so will crack, and they will begin to yellow if they get too dry.


Opal & Turquoise:

Top Left: Opal heart pendant set in gold and surrounded by diamonds, c.1890s - ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Top Right: Brooch in the form of an eagle fighting a snake, pavé-set with turquoise, c.1860 Bottom Left: Earrings in the form of bunches of bulrushes and leaves, pavé-set with turquoise, c.1860. Bottom Right: Opal cameo with a border of dots flanked by silver leaves set with diamonds, c.1900. - © The Trustees of the British Museum


Do not use water to clean opal or turquoise, simply buff them gently with a soft cloth or slightly damp chamois leather.



Antique Diamonds:

Left: A gold ring set with a blue diamond surrounded by a border of diamonds and a triangle of diamonds on each shoulder, c.1825. Middle: Diamond bow brooch, possibly Russian, c.1760. Right: Enamelled gold ring with a 4-petal bezel with double cusps, set with a table-cut diamond, with volutes on the shoulders, 19th century. - ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London


To clean antique diamonds (which pick up grease easily), you can use the homemade mild soapy cleaning solution mentioned above and a soft-bristled toothbrush, taking care to dry diamonds with a clean, soft cotton cloth. You may have heard that diamonds are one of the hardest substances on Earth, but that doesn't mean that they can't get damaged. Putting diamonds in direct contact with other diamonds can cause them to crack and chip, so take care to store them separately.


Emeralds:

Left: 16th-century hexagonal emerald in a white, black, blue, green, and red champlevé enamel frame with table-cut diamonds, c.1860-70. - Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021 Middle: Spanish pendant set with Colombian emeralds and table-cut diamonds, c.1700-1715. Right: Necklace and earrings of faceted table-cut emeralds in borders of brilliant-cut diamonds with briolette emerald drops, Nitot & Fils, France, c.1806 - ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London


Emeralds are particularly sensitive to cleaning products and ultrasonic cleaning devices, so steer clear of these. Since a lot of emeralds are fracture-filled with oils, resins, or polymers, heat can damage emeralds by extending existing fractures, and light and chemicals can cause the materials used to fill fractures to alter in appearance, making them more obvious, or causing them to deteriorate.


Other Gemstones:

Left: Cannetille and grainti locket bracelet with foiled amethyst cabochons and other semi-precious stones, possibly French, c.1820-30. Right: Gold and turquoise 'REGARD' locket set with gemstones, c.1840.

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London


All gemstones will have a rating on the Mohs scale between 1 and 10. The lower the number is, the softer the material. The higher the number, the harder. Gemstones rated 7+ can be cleaned with warm water and mild soap cleaning solution and a soft toothbrush. For gemstones less than 7, you should use a soft cloth rather than a soft brush, but always check the Dos and Don'ts for the specific gemstones.


Ivory:

Left: Pierced and carved ivory brooch with three horses inside a border of oak twigs, c.1830-1860. Right: Ivory lily of the valley brooch with four petalled flowers, c.1850. - © The Trustees of the British Museum


Ivory absorbs stains and water, so clean with a soft-bristled dry brush and keep it away from heat, water, direct sunlight, or a very dry atmosphere.


Enamel:

Left: Enamelled ring with a hunting scene in gold on a blue enamel ground, Germany, 1800-20. Right: Snake finger-ring with braided hair, inscription, and engraving on a blue enamel ground, c.1848. - © The Trustees of the British Museum


Enamel is extremely fragile and should only be blown clean or dusted very gently.


Other materials: Other notes to think about - beware of getting the threads of bracelets and necklaces wet. It can cause them to shrink and eventually rot.



Storing Antique Jewelry


Antique Animal Jewelry - from the AAJ blog on Antique Jewelry Boxes


The best way to store your antique jewelry will always be in individual jewelry boxes or by wrapping them carefully in pure cotton or linen cloth to prevent scratches. The boxes can be fantastic collectors items in themselves. Equally important though is wearing your antique jewelry. Don't be too wary, although they require a bit more care than modern jewelry, they were made to be worn and flaunted, so show them off!


For more rare Georgian and Victorian jewelry follow Antique Animal Jewelry on Instagram

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If you've read our previous blogs on Georgian & Victorian mourning jewelry you will know that most people who lived during that time were touched by death in one way or another. With the dangers of childbirth, high infant mortality rates, and diseases going around, few were those who had not lost someone. That is not to say, however, that everyone died young; nip'd in the bud, or struck down in their prime. This much, at least, is evident through the lens of mourning jewelry of the time.


A black enamel and 18-22 carat gold mourning band with swirling rococo banners for Elizabeth Inman who died aged 96 in 1768. The inscription reads ‘Eliz Inman Ob 13 Feb 1768 Et 96’ Antique Animal Jewelry




Life Expectancy in the 18th & 19th Centuries


Around the 18th century in Britain, life expectancy improved, rising from around 35 in the Middle Ages to around 40, probably at least in part due to the plague dying out, more nutrition in diets, and improvements in agriculture. It rose again in the 19th century to around 47-50. There is a misconception, however, that this means that most people living at this time were likely to die by the time they reached the age of 40 or 50. This is not the case. The way life expectancy is calculated takes into account infant mortality and death in childbirth, which actually skews the figures quite significantly. The mourning jewels below illustrate just how prevalent childhood deaths were at the time.


A devastating, beautiful gold band enameled in black with a narrow white enamel border at the top and bottom. The outside of the hoop is inscribed: "MB Agd 16, SB Agd 12, WB Agd 10, EB Agd 9, TB Agd 7, RB Agd 5, CB Agd 2", with the initials detailing the loss of 7 children. The inside of the hoop is engraved with an inscription in italics: "Died from the 16th to the 23rd Feby. 1801".

©Victoria and Albert Museum



Gold mourning ring decorated with seed pearls. The marquise-shaped bezel with 'SWH' and willow leaves partly worked in hair, over plaited hair. The inscription on the back tells us the ring records the death of two children - Sarah Hetherington, who died aged 7 months on the 7 April 1786, and her brother William who died just a few months later on 31 July 1786. His age is recorded as 8 years, 9 months, showing that every moment of his short life was to be counted.

©Victoria and Albert Museum



This gold mourning ring enameled in white, the band shaped like small bones, commemorates the death of a baby. The ring is set with rose-cut diamonds and is inscribed 'Matthew Arnold died 10 May 1742 aged 8 months'. England, c.1742. - ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London



White enameled gold mourning ring, the hexagonal bezel set with a crystal enclosing a skull. The hoop of five scrolls, inscribed "Eliz; Hors.Man OB; 7 June 1740 AE:3", for a child who died aged 3.

©Victoria and Albert Museum



Since infant mortality in Britain nowadays is pretty low, our life expectancy figure is much closer to giving a rough estimate of how long we might expect to live, but that's a lot less true for figures from the 18th and 19th centuries. What that means is that although a lot of people were dying in childhood, if you made it past childhood you actually had a pretty decent chance of living to the age of 60, 70, or longer. These mourning jewels are only a few examples of many demonstrating that fact.


Gold mourning ring enameled in black and white. The convex oval bezel is set with a miniature of a woman seated by an urn on a pedestal inscribed 'IH'. For Isaac Hitchin who died on 14 January 1766, aged 71. - ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London



Interlocking double mourning ring commemorating a husband and wife or close family members, and the unbreakable bond they shared. For Samuel Warren who died on 20 Dec 1762 aged 79, and Ann Warren who died 14 years later on 15 Aug aged 72. - © The Trustees of the British Museum



Gold mourning ring enameled in black. The Marquise bezel with a miniature of an urn on a pedestal on ivory or bone under glass or a rock crystal panel. The hoop is inscribed for Frances Crabtree who died on 27 September 1783 at the age of 72. - ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London



Gold mourning hoop with broad shoulders decorated with gold foliage on a black enamel background. The bezel is circular and decorated with a gold and black enamel Greek key design around a circular central panel, possibly formed of a glass cover over plaited hair. The inside of the hoop is engraved, "J. Osmotherly Oct 13 1871 age 72". - ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London



These mourning rings are a pair, possibly for a couple with the initials CS and IS who died aged 70 and 72. The diamond and colored paste set flowers depicted drooping in a vase symbolize death and mourning. Inscribed on the back of each is, 'Cease thy tears, religion points on high/ CS ob.25 Jan 1787 aet 70/ IS ob. 18 Sep 1792 aet 72'. - ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London (1 | 2)



A Georgian mourning ring with a small rock crystal center and four diamonds, with black enamel detailing and rococo band inscribed ‘Matthew Meakin ob Jan 7, 1740, aet 73’. - Antique Animal Jewelry



Black enamel and 18ct yellow gold mourning band, inscribed, “Richard Knight Arm OB 29 Jan 1765 AE TATIS 73” - Gembank 1973



A high-carat Georgian mourning ring with attractive crosshatched enamel detailing and shoulders, with gold foliate panels around the hair panel and enamel shoulders. The inside with inscription ‘ John Edwards ob 16 March 1819 aet 73’. - Antique Animal Jewelry



Gold mourning ring enameled in black and white. The octagonal bezel with 'MW' in monogram, the border inscribed, "MARY. WHITE./ OB: 10.FEB. 1798: AE:73".

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London



White and black enamel and gold mourning ring for the celebrated German-born British Baroque composer George Frederic Handel, who died on 14 April 1759, aged 74. - Sotheby's



18ct gold and enamel mourning ring, inscribed for William Wrightson who died on 26 December 1827, aged 75 - From Art of Mourning, courtesy of Pip Terry



18ct yellow gold black enamel mourning band ring, the paste stone was added later. For Martha Ann Leonard who died on 27 Dec 1847, aged 59’ and Robert Leonard who died on 21 May 1863, aged 75’. - Gembank 1973



Three different mourning rings, all for people who died aged 76 in the 18th & 19th centuries. Left: A white and black enameled mourning band for Sarah Tomlinson who died on 19 June 1806, aged 76. Middle: A mourning ring with a heart-shaped bezel that was once enameled and set with a rose-cut diamond. For Richard Perry who died on 22 April 1754, aged 76. Right: A white enameled mourning ring for Fountayne Wentworth Osbaldeston Esq. who died on 10th June 1770, aged 76. The white band shows that he died unmarried. - All ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London



Enameled gold mourning ring with an openwork silver scroll-edged bezel set with rose-cut diamonds and an amethyst in the form of a cross. For Richard Pett who died on the 23 February 1765, aged 76.

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London



A gold and black enamel English mourning ring for Sir William Wentworth, a Baronet who died in 1763, aged 77. - Sarah Nehama.



A Georgian mourning ring, 1809, with three snakes, a central ouroboros in chased gold around a cabochon crystal with black and white enamel border, and coiled snake shoulders. The back is engraved “ T Marsh ob 8 December 1809 aet 77”. - Antique Animal Jewelry




In Search of the Oldest


The featured piece of mourning jewelry from Antique Animal Jewelry demonstrates that there were some people like Elizabeth Inman, born in the 17th century, who lived well into the 18th century and died at the age of 90+. In fact, there are at least 14 officially verified UK centenarians from the 18th century, the oldest of whom - Elizabeth Hanbury - lived to the age of 108, having been born in England on 9 Jun 1793, and having died in England on 31 Oct 1901. That makes her old enough to have lived in three centuries: the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.


Margaret Ann Neve is another supercentenarian to have achieved this, being the first recorded female supercentenarian and the second validated human to reach the age of 110. Born on 18 May 1792, and having died on 4 April 1903, she spent her life living in Guernsey, England, and Belgium. During her life, she witnessed the aftermath of the battle of Waterloo firsthand and visited Krakow while it was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.


Margaret Ann Harvey Neve National Portrait Gallery



Our interest piqued by this, we thought that there must be some pretty impressive figures featured on 18th & 19th-century mourning jewels, so we went in search of the oldest death we could find recorded in mourning jewelry from that time. Here is a selection of mourning jewels made for those who died at the age of 80+, with the oldest example we found being a tie between two rings for people who died aged 96...


Gold mourning ring enameled in white, set with pearls and rose-cut diamonds, with a blue paste ground and an applied urn, set with diamonds. For William Fauquier Esq. who died 15 December 1788 aged 80.

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London



A navette-shaped ring, inset with a sepia miniature depicting a man leaning on a funerary urn, within a black enamel border inscribed "Andw Honey Ob 18 Feb 1787 Ae 80". - Sotheby's



Black enamel and crystal front mourning band inscribed, "Margaret Woodward ob 25. Oct 1806 Æ 80". - Gembank 1973



Mourning ring with a sepia urn and black enamel shank, inscribed, "margt earquharson ob 16 March 1780 æ 80". - Gembank 1973



A mourning brooch with a silver openwork bow, set with rose and brilliant-cut diamonds and pink sapphires over foil. For Elizabeth Eyton who died aged 81 in 1754.

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London



Black enamel hair locket ring, made for Charles Clay who died 18 February 1812, aged 82. - Gembank 1973



An English gold and black enamel mourning ring with a central amethyst. The rococo scrolled band identifies the deceased as Dr. Abm (Abraham) Sequeira who died 5 August 1747, aged 82. - Sarah Nehama



Gold and onyx mourning locket set with diamond monogram 'JE' and 'EE'. The frames around the hair compartments are inscribed for Jarvis Empson who died on March 28th 1871, aged 78, and Elizabeth Empson who died on July 24th 1867, aged 83. - ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London



A black and gold enameled ring inscribed, "Sarah Wright Died 6 Nov 1781, aged 84". - Sotheby's



Unusual 19th-century mourning band in the style of late 18th century enameled bands. Dedicated to Benjamin Brooksbank who died on 21 September 1842, aged 85. - Sarah Nehama



A beautiful high carat gold memento mori skull ring dated 1712. The outer hoop is decorated in black enamel with a central skull motif between acanthus, representing the Heavenly garden, and thistle flowers, symbolizing the Crown of Thorns. The interior is inscribed, "Sir Wm Hoskins Ob. 13 Aug 1712 aet 85". Sir William Hoskins was Lord of the Manor of Oxted. - Rowan and Rowan



Gold mourning ring for a couple, enameled in dark blue, white, and light blue. Inscribed in Latin 'Betty Savory died 23 February 1792 aged 70' and 'Henry Savory died 30 December 1798 aged 86'.

©Victoria and Albert Museum, London



A navette-shaped ring, inset with a hair work funerary urn embellished with gold beads and rose diamond detail, within a black enamel border inscribed 'L. Lutwidge Ob7 Sep 1780 Ae 86'. - Sotheby's



Beautiful mourning ring for Jane Sikes who died on 28 October 1832, aged 88 - Rowan and Rowan



A gold mourning ring with a hoop of six scrolls featuring memento mori motifs of a skull, crown, winged hourglass, crossbones, coffin, and a crossed spade and pick. It has a square bezel reeded on the back. For E. Godard who died on 2 June 1755, aged 91. - © The Trustees of the British Museum



A plain gold mourning goop with black enamel. For Ann Abrams who died 17 August 1795, aged 93. Engraved on the inside, "In constanci let us live and die". - © The Trustees of the British Museum



The mourning brooch of Elizabeth Cook, widow of Captain Cook the Circumnavigator, who died on 3 May 1835, aged 93. Tragically, Elizabeth spent 42 of her 93 years in mourning alone, after the deaths of her six children and beloved husband. - © Captain Cook Memorial Museum



An 18th-century gold and enamel mourning ring with a gilt inscription to the top and shaft that reads, 'Han Curnow OB26 Aug 1784 Æ 94', 'Not lost gone before'. - Adam Partridge Auctioneers & Valuers



A mourning ring set with oval, cushion-shaped, and rose diamonds, highlighted with translucent and opaque enamel. For George Lord Headley, who died 9 April 1778, aged 94. - Sotheby's - also featured in Georgian Jewellery 1714-1830 and Rings, Jewellery of Power, Love and Loyalty



A gold mourning ring with black enamel borders framing a textured band with relief engraving "In Memory Of". For Mary Benson who died 22 December 1816, aged 96. - Bonhams



The featured image: A black enamel and 18-22 carat gold mourning band with swirling rococo banners for Elizabeth Inman who died aged 96 in 1768. The inscription reads ‘Eliz Inman Ob 13 Feb 1768 Et 96Antique Animal Jewelry



Have you ever seen an 18th or 19th-century piece of mourning jewelry for someone who died at an older age than 96? Let us know!



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