Mourning Jewelry Part IV: Other Victorian Mourning Jewelry
For the Victorians, death was a huge part of their daily lives. In London, the average lifespan for middle-to-upper-class men was 44 years, but only 25 for tradesmen and 22 for laborers. With cholera and scarlet fever around, workhouses with terrible conditions for the poor, and Queen Victoria's own tragic loss of her mother, husband, and 3 of her children, it is perhaps no wonder that the Victorians thought about death so often - carrying with them sentimental mementos of loved ones who had passed, and enacting elaborate rituals and codes of mourning to cope with their losses. In Part III on Mourning Jewelry, we looked specifically at Victorian Mourning Rings. Now, we delve into the wider world of Victorian mourning jewelry.
Whitby jet snake mourning panel bracelet, intricately carved from head to tail. The symbol of the snake was very popular in the Victorian era, used in both love and mourning jewelry alike to symbolize 'eternity'. The choice of material here suggests that this piece is a mourning bracelet. c.1880s.
Mourning jewelry in the Victorian era could take many forms, from pendants and lockets to bracelets, buttons, stickpins, and brooches. Of all of these, lockets and brooches were by far the most popular. Brooches were worn by both men and women alike, and mourning lockets were considered practically 'indispensable' as a daily fashion item between the 1860s and the 1880s.
Popular Mourning Jewelry Materials
Because mourning jewelry was at its peak in the Victorian era, it can be hard to tell genuine mourning jewelry from jewelry inspired by the materials and motifs used in mourning jewelry. The easiest way to identify a piece as mourning jewelry is via an inscription for a specific person or the use of phrases like 'In Memory Of'. Otherwise, some combination of the following can suggest a piece's use as a mourning jewel: hairwork, compartments for hair or photographs, mourning motifs like snakes and lily-of-the-valley, and black materials like jet, or common material pairings in mourning jewels like black enamel and pearls.
Enamel, Pearls & Diamonds
The 'Cult of Mourning' dictated that there were 3 stages of mourning in the Victorian era: Deepest Mourning, during which you wore only black and no jewelry (though later in the period a small amount of matte black jewelry was allowed); Ordinary Mourning, introducing a black and white color scheme with more extravagant black fabrics allowed and materials like pearls (representing purity and the tears of those left behind) and black and white enamels used in jewelry; and Half-Mourning, where diamonds, gold, and silver could also be used in jewelry, as well as other select gemstones if used tastefully.
A Victorian mourning stickpin with a beautiful black enamel snake wrapping around an oval of pearls with a central agate motif, the forget-me-not. To the back, the snake bears the inscription, 'Samuel Whitbread born Jan 18 1764, died July 6 1815.' and 'Lady Elizabeth Whitbread born April 7th 1765, died Nov 28 1846.' Samuel Whitbread was a part of Whitbread's, his father's famous brewing business, as well as being a politician, an abolitionist, and a champion of civil rights. He was an admirer of Napoleon and his reforms in France and Europe. A year after Napoleon's abdication in 1814, Samuel grew deeply depressed and committed suicide in 1815. - Antique Animal Jewelry
An unusual purple enamel Victorian mourning brooch, gold-backed and silver-fronted with a diamond halo and a lock of hair in the locket back. - From Wharfedale Antiques via Instagram.
A French mourning bracelet, perhaps made by Crouzet, in the Moroccan taste to reflect the French engagement with North Africa. Gold, enameled in black, and set with brilliant-cut diamonds and pearls, this bracelet is hung with five small lockets, each of which opens to allow the owner to insert a photograph or lock of hair. The motifs of a cross, anchor, and heart, symbolize the Christian virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love. This was likely worn during the Half-Mourning stage, c.1860.
Mourning bracelet with three handing pendants, each of which bears one of three motifs: a cross, an anchor, and a heart, symbolizing the Christian virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love. These were common motifs in mourning jewelry. 'Royal' blue enamel suggests that the deceased was very important to those remembering them, like royalty. - Antique Animal Jewelry
A mourning bracelet of braided gold with 8 hanging locket pendants. Each has the second initial R with other first initials, implying they are members of the same family. Each contains hair and is inscribed with a date between 1847 and 1859. These are likely birth dates, though they could be dates of death.
From Gedenke Mein Freundschafts- und Memorialschmuck by Gisela Zick.
Victorian gold, black enamel, and rose-cut diamond mourning pendant/brooch, c.1860. From Wharfedale Antiques
A Victorian oval mourning brooch in black enameled gold, engraved with a lily-of-the-valley design set with seed pearls, with a photo panel to the back. The lily-of-the-valley symbolizes the reunion of loved ones who have departed. - Via Carter's
Victorian mourning locket featuring a rose-cut diamond in a raised claw setting surrounded by intricate gold inlay work against a ground of smooth black enamel. - From Heart of Hearts Jewels
A Victorian mourning brooch set with pearls and inscribed ‘William Robinson Baxter, died Dec 10th 1844 aged 2 years. Margaret Golder Minter, died 4th October 1856 aged 31. James Golder Robinson, died 5th June 1857 aged 37. Jane Robinson, died October 10th 1870 aged 91 years.’ From @devon_magick via Instagram.
Jet & French Jet
With a strict dress code during Victorian mourning, black materials like jet became extremely popular in mourning jewelry. It could be left matte or polished to shine, making it versatile in fitting various stages of mourning and designs. There was also a large source of jet in Whitby, Yorkshire, where workshops became well known for producing hand-carved and highly detailed jet pieces.
Left: I .M .O, 'In Memory Of', Whitby jet mourning locket back brooch. From @littledropofdifference via Instagram. Right: I .M .O, 'In Memory Of', Whitby jet mourning locket. From Sarah Nehama via Facebook
This jet parure consists of a bracelet, earrings, a necklace, and a brooch, and is carved with medallions of female heads symbolizing 'Night' in a surround of roses and leaves, c.1870. If worn as mourning jewelry, this parure likely would have been worn one piece at a time rather than all together, as it was considered in poor taste to wear a lot of jewelry during mourning. - ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Victorian Whitby jet mourning brooch - From @jetrockgirl via Instagram.
Whitby jet mourning bracelet, carved and polished, in the form of a coiled, segmented snake with the elements threaded on sprung wire so that it fits the wrist tightly. - © The Trustees of the British Museum.
Carved jet mourning locket in the form of leaf, sprays flanking an oval hinged lid which lifts up to reveal a glass-covered compartment bordered with gold twisted wire containing strips of laid and glued brown hair placed across each other at right angles. c.1860-80. - © The Trustees of the British Museum.
Oval jet morning locket with applied floral spray of flowers and buds, the locket polished, the flower spray left matte, the inside with a glass-covered compartment containing plaited strips of laid, glued, and cut hair of two colors, light and dark. The inside edge of the lid and back is carved with a foliate motif, c.1860-80. - © The Trustees of the British Museum.
Early Victorian jet mourning brooch with a floral motif, c.1840s. - Via 1stdibs.
Both ©Victoria & Albert Museum, London
A collection of 3 jet and 2 either Gutta Percha or Vulcanite mourning pendants and lockets.
'French Jet' is a kind of imitation jet made from black glass, called 'French' jet because it was primarily manufactured in France (though England, Austria, Germany, and what is now the Czech Republic soon produced their own). The beads are often faceted to look like jet but are heavier and cold to the touch, unlike genuine jet. French jet, however, was much cheaper to produce so it soon became the most widely spread form of 'jet' used in mourning jewelry across Europe.
Stunning Victorian French Jet necklace and matching earrings. From A. E. I. Antiques via Instagram.
Victorian Mourning Cameo with a French Jet and Seed Pearl Surround. Via Lang Antiques
Pair of gold earrings, set with a hair under glass bordered with a double row of French jet beads. Original hinged loop fittings inserted from the back of the ear and hooking into the top of the earring.
A mourning brooch of faceted 'French jet' (cast black glass imitating jet), mounted on gilded copper. A panel on the back holds plaited hair, most likely the hair of a deceased friend or family member. c.1830-40.
Victorian mourning pin of a floral design made with either French jet or onyx, more likely the former as onyx was a very expensive material at the time. The piece is decorated with seed pearls and set in 14kt gold, the pin with a pearl inset. - Via 1stdibs.
Onyx & Banded Agates
As well as jet, other black materials like onyx and banded agates were popular in Victorian mourning jewelry, particularly given Queen Victoria's own appreciation of these materials. She had onyx and banded agate pieces made on the deaths of her mother, Prince Albert, and 3 of her children, as well as to commemorate her half-sister Feodora, Princess of Hohenlohe-Langenburg. Onyx, however, was one of the most expensive materials to use in mourning jewelry apart from enameled gold, making it popular predominantly amongst the wealthier circles of society.
A great quality example of an onyx mourning locket, where the black and white bands of the onyx have been cut so that a white oval frames the diamond-set initials 'JE' and 'EE'. Inscribed around the frames of the hair compartments is '+Jarvis Empson, born June 28th.1793, died March 28th.1871' and '+Elizth. Empson, born 17th. April 1784, died July 24th.1867'. - ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London
A Victorian onyx and 18k gold necklace with a double-sided locket. The front of the locket has a 4-leaf clover set with white seed pearls and a small diamond. The back compartment is empty but perhaps once housed hairwork or a photograph. There are gold flowers on one side of each onyx link, the bale is set with seed pearls, and there is a detailed dolphin clasp set with a blue turquoise eye and a green (possibly also turquoise) eye. The place for hair or a photo and the black color of the piece suggests it might have been a mourning piece, c.1860-1880. - From Sarah Nehama via Instagram.
Two Victorian mourning photo lockets in gold, onyx, and pearls. One set with an M monogram, the other with a floral motif. - Via Bijoux Regionaux.
Oval-shaped Victorian mourning brooch in 15kt yellow gold with a central oval onyx cabochon set with a single seed pearl. The onyx is surrounded by pretty winding vines with textured gold ivy leaves, symbolizing 'eternity' or 'everlasting'. Surrounding the center is an elaborate enamel border in black and white enamel with a design that evokes Greek key, also symbolizing eternity. The back has a deep glazed compartment for hair. c.1870s. - Via 1stdibs.
Victorian black onyx and pearl bar mourning pin, c.1880. The combination of pearls and black materials like onyx was very popular in 'ordinary mourning' jewelry. - From St John & Myers Jewelry via Instagram.
14kt gold, onyx, and pearl mourning pendant with a shield-shaped onyx plaque surmounted by pearls set in a lily-of-the-valley motif, completed by a seed pearl bail decorated with black tracery enamel, verso with locket compartment. - Via Skinner
Victorian gold and black enamel mourning brooch set with a banded agate and a gold star with a pearl. Via Carter's
Early Victorian 18k gold morning pin/brooch with a carved banded agate displaying a forget-me-not design and with plaited hair set into the back, c.1850. - From A. Brandt + Son via Pinterest.
Gutta Percha, Vulcanite, Bog Oak & Tortoiseshell
These materials are all naturally dark brown or black in color, making them a good fit for mourning jewelry. Gutta-percha is made from the sap/resin of tropical trees native to Southeast Asia and northern Australasia, which can be easily carved and is very resilient. Vulcanite (also sometimes called 'ebonite') is similarly made from the sap of trees, specifically Euphorbia or Ficus trees from Malaysia, but vulcanite pieces are almost always molded rather than carved. Bog oak is a generic term for fossilized wood turned black with age and by long burial in peat bogs. It's traditionally Irish, with bog oak jewelry often featuring Celtic crosses, Irish harps, and shamrocks, however, the black coloring of the material also made it appealing for use in mourning jewelry.
Gutta-percha bangle mourning bracelet, hand-carved with two bands of 9kt yellow gold lining the top and bottom resting in carved grooves to create a ridged design. Set across the front are seven ornate flourished with a soft etched surface, c.1880. - From A. Brandt + Son
Victorian Gutta Percha snake mourning pin, the snake symbolizing eternity - From lovestreetsf via Etsy
A double-sided French 19th century mourning brooch, the border made of carved Gutta Percha, with flat/palette worked human hair curled and tied behind a glass panel. - Via Ebay.
Two Gutta Percha pins, the smaller with grapes and the larger being a mourning locket pin with a fuscia flower design and hair inside. From the 2nd half of the 1800s. - From Lorelay Trouvé via Instagram.
A luscious Victorian vulcanite cuff with a floral motif. - From Rebecca Sweeting via Instagram.
Victorian vulcanite mourning brooch with a high relief of a chaff of wheat. The symbol of wheat was extremely popular during the Victorian era, symbolizing the Bread of the Eucharist (Mark 14:22-24) and, especially when paired with grapes, the idea of everlasting life through the belief in Jesus. From victoriansentiments via Etsy.
Left: Victorian carved Bog Oak Fuchsia drop earrings, c.1880. From WestandSonJewellery via Etsy. Right: Victorian carved Bog Oak mourning earring with gold fittings, c.1860s. From GreenMoonHouse via Etsy.
Victorian Bog Oak cameo mourning pendant featuring an intricate carving of a woman with grapevines in her hair, and a ram. A border of carved beads surrounds the scene, and there is a genuine pearl set into the carving. - From Goddess in LA via Ruby Lane.
A dark tortoiseshell cameo mourning locket, carved, with hair inside the locket, c. mid-1800s.
From creating miniature scenes to weaving braided chains for bracelets and hanging watches from, the Victorian era was the height of popularity for hairwork in mourning jewelry. The hair was originally taken directly from the deceased, as a very real and personal memento that would not decay. However, by the mid-1800s, England was importing 50 tons of hair a year due to demand to supplement pieces. Although hair was also used in other sentimental jewelry like love tokens, it was particularly favored in mourning jewelry. Queen Victoria was said to have carried a lock of Prince Albert's hair with her almost constantly after his death, normalizing the practice of carrying around the hair of deceased loved ones.
Incredibly detailed Victorian hairwork mourning brooch/pendant with a floral motif in a vermeil frame. Via Live Auctioneers.
Mourning hair flowers brooch, American, c.1850–1860. Made from hair, gold, enamel, fabric, paper, and glass. The Greek key design around the border was popular in mourning jewelry as it symbolizes eternity. From the Sarah Nehama Collection
Mourning pin, c.1890s, containing detailed hairwork and a monogram on one side, and a portrait on the other. The center rotates so that whichever side faces outward is always framed by a black enamel frame. From Maejean Vintage Jewelry via Instagram.
Victorian mourning brooch with locks of brunette hair hand-worked into a bouquet of flowers, preserved between two pieces of swiveling, bevel-edged glass. The glass is in a gold sheeted bezel surrounded by a black enameled, gold sheet frame. Black enamel particularly suggests this piece's purpose as a mourning jewel. The elegant frame is embellished with acanthus leaves at the North and South points. c.1840. Via Gem Set Love.
A gold brooch pendant in the form of nine roundels surrounding a central roundel with an engraved gold border, each containing hair arrangements under glass; at the base is a small heart-shaped drop also with hair. The hair in the small roundels is arranged as curls tied with twisted gold wire; the central roundel contains two dark curls secured with gold wire and seed pearls, with further gold wire decoration. The reverse with initials on the back of the small roundels including the date 1852, and on the back of the small drop. These are probably for a family. - © The Trustees of the British Museum.
Victorian mourning brooch with an oval goldfilled frame and reticulated scroll border. The central hair work is on milk glass, displaying cut-work flowers and foliage and a Prince of Wales curl with gold wire and seed pearls, all surrounded by a black enamel frame marked 'In Memory Of'. - Via Live Auctioneers.
Two Victorian 19th-century hairwork brooches, one with strands of different colored hair forming a stylized sheaf of wheat in a gold frame with ribbon decoration, the other with cut hair forming a floral forget-me-not motif in a gold frame. - Both via auctioneve.com.
A Victorian double-sided mourning locket brooch/pendant. With a gold-plated body and 3d leaf-and-scroll-type motifs and an unusual sliding bolt that releases the center section to rotate and have the other side facing front. The hairwork is a 5-person mourning display of finely set sprays, gilt wire, and tiny seed pearls, c.1870. - From VictoriousAntique via Etsy
Oval hairwork brooch with a spray of pansies (conveying the sentiment, 'think of me') in cut and laid hair on ivory under glass, surrounded by a hollow tube of plaited hair held in four engraved gold bands. The reverse with glass a covered compartment backed with blue textile, and gold fittings at either side to attach a bracelet, c.1850-70. - © The Trustees of the British Museum.
Hair jewelry of this kind of design was very popular and often used in love tokens, however, this piece is a mourning piece. It's very unusual in its use of white hair - the hair of a deceased elder, rare and treasured. c.1850-80. A touching short story published in the Massachusetts Ploughman in 1878 tells of Beth, a young actress who cares for her ailing grandfather. She is courted by a young man who, upon her grandfather’s death, takes his own hair and the deceased’s hair to create a locket for her, giving both romantic and mourning value to the piece and making it more valuable than gems could ever be. From The Cincinnati Art Museum.
Hairwork brooch in the form of a bow, built up of triple hollow tubes of plaited hair on each side with a central rosette formed of an engraved gold flowerhead with an enameled dark blue forget-me-not in the middle, surrounded by hollow hairwork beads. From the center of the bow hang three hearts in hollow plaited hair with engraved pierced gold tops, suspended on chains. The inscription on the reverse reads 'Jessie J Jardine April 16. 1864', c.1850-70. - © The Trustees of the British Museum.
Listed as a Victorian mourning brooch, made from 9ct gold and human hair. There is a curled lock, mounted under glass, with a natural pearl and crimped wire. The glazed compartment is bordered with a woven tube of hair, pinched in as it passes through each flower-mounted tube.
From CliftonVintage via Etsy.
Left: Victorian era 14k yellow gold mourning pin/brooch with strands of hair intertwined within a gold framework. Via