Mourning & Memorial Jewelry
The tradition of wearing mourning jewelry goes back to at least the Middle Ages, when motifs like skulls and crossbones served as a tangible reminder of death. The term, memento mori, which literally translates to remember death, urged the wearer to live a moral life.
The popularity of mourning jewelry reached its peak during the Victorian era. When Queen Victoria lost her husband Prince Albert, she spent the next four decades wearing black crepe dresses and mourning jewelry. The Queen set an example that was emulated by her court and community, and it found its way across the ocean to America. Wearing mourning jewelry not only became fashionable, it became a requirement of mourning etiquette. The wealthy commissioned lockets, bracelets, necklaces and rings to memorialize their loved ones. Common materials included jet, onyx, pearls, black enamel, bog oak and vulcanite. White enamel memorialized unmarried women, the addition of pearls symbolized the loss of a child.
Jewelry that contained locks of a loved one’s hair was particularly popular during the Victorian era. The Victorians believed that hair had a sacred quality because it contained something of the essence of the person. And because it was somewhat imperishable, it also symbolized immortality. These items weren't limited to women; men could have memorial cufflinks or pocket watch fobs with parts of the deceased person's hair woven in.
Simply put, death was a constant companion in the Victorian era. Mourning jewelry brought a bit of solace to the survivors who had to cope with frequent losses from war, cholera, typhoid, smallpox, and scarlet fever.
The necklaces and bracelet offered on this page are all hand made using jet, onyx, or obsidian beads in the style of Victorian mourning jewelry. The necklace with the glass fob may be used to display hair art, or a mosaic of dried flowers. Click on any item for more detailed information.