Remembering the Dead: All About Mourning Jewelry

Who knew jewelry could be so macabre?

Once upon a time before photography, people needed a way to remember their deceased family members. So they used what might seem a little odd today: jewelry in which to keep pieces of the dead loved one’s hair.

The practice started as late as the 16th century and lasted through the Victorian Era. Queen Victoria, ever the trendsetter, popularized mourning jewelry after the death of Prince Albert in 1861. Black jewelry in general became especially popular at the time.

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This antique mourning locket still has a lock of hair inside.

Mourning rings were the most popular type, but you can also find hair in lockets and other types of jewelry.

Jewelers got creative with hair: locks were not only kept in lockets, but also braided with a cord or ground and mixed with paint to paint a small, detailed picture. No matter the type, each piece of jewelry was inscribed with the name and date of death of the deceased. Some also had morbid epitaphs like “we must submit” and “we’re his last”.

Black enamel was the most common material in mourning jewelry. But other materials also had their own significance: for instance, white enamel meant a girl had died before she was married, and pearls meant the death of a child. Victorians had extra-strict rules for mourning periods, and their jewelry would match each period based on the appropriate color.

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A mourning brooch.

When photography became more widely available in the Victorian Era, people started the infinitely creepier practice of post mortem photography. People put their dead loved ones in poses as if they were alive and had photos taken with them to remember them by. You can easily find these by searching online.

Most mourning jewelry you’ll find out there is beautiful, so keep an eye out and you may just be surprised by what you can find.

Sources:

Historic New England

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