Mourning Jewelry

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Memorial ring in gold and black enamel, the bezel containing a microphotograph, reversed, of the Prince Consort in 1861, which is attributed to J.J.E. Mayall. 

Queen Victoria lost the love of her life, Prince Albert, to typhoid fever after 21 years of wedded bliss. This tragic loss plunged her majesty into a deep state of mourning for the remainder of her life- almost forty years. To satiate her broken heart, Queen Victoria wore black garments, black jewelry, and black hair accessories. As an example, the above ring was commissioned in honour of her beloved. Along the side of the ring, the initials ‘V’ and ‘A’ are linked in white enamel.

And as Queen Victoria set the example for her court, mourning clothing and jewelry became the pinnacle of fashion.

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A pearl and black chalcedony Victorian mourning pin with a floral motif reflect a gentler view of death. Thirty-six natural pearls surround the pin, and seed pearls adorn the flower petals and leaves. Photo: Robert Weldon/GIA. Courtesy: KCB Natural Pearls

By today’s standards, mourning jewelry might seem morbid. But in Victorian times, death was abundant. Middle-class men might live, on average, to 45. The typical lifespan of workmen and labourers spanned just half that time. Children’s fate was even worse. One in three died before the age of five.

Mourning jewelry brought solace to the survivors who had to cope with frequent losses. In the end, perhaps mourning jewelry can be thought of more as an expression of love than of grief. Its purpose was to keep a departed beloved near to the heart. And that is a sentiment that transcends culture and time. 

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Mourning brooches. Photo: Detlef Thomas. Hair jewelry pendant. Photo: Missouri History Museum.

Sources:

Graff, Michelle. “The History Behind … Victorian mourning jewelry” National Jeweler, 3 Nov. 2014, http://www.nationaljeweler.com/independents/2058-the-history-behind-victorian-mourning-jewelry.

Picard, Liza. “Health and Hygiene in the 19th Century” British Library, 14 Oct. 2009, https://www.bl.uk/victorian-britain/articles/health-and-hygiene-in-the-19th-century

Steele, Meredith. “Victorian Mourning Jewelry: Morbid, Macabre, and Magnificent” Interwave, 31 Oct. 2018, https://www.interweave.com/article/beading/victorian-mourning-jewelry-morbid-macabre-and-magnificent/

“Antique Jewelry: Mourning Jewelry of the Victorian Era” GIA. https://4cs.gia.edu/en-us/blog/antique-victorian-era-mourning-jewelry/

“Victoria’s Photographic Mourning Ring for Albert, 1861” Art of Mourning. https://artofmourning.com/2015/03/02/victorias-photographic-mourning-ring-for-albert-1861/?doing_wp_cron=1564494993.1637020111083984375000

Author: Victorian Trading Co.

Preserving the richness of the most romantic eras, we capture antiquity in our unique gifts, clothing and home decor.

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