What Is Mourning Jewelry?

Mourning jewelry is the topic of documentaries that air right around the Halloween holiday. Considered by modern Americans to be macabre examples of bygone grief customs, the seasoned jewelry collector actually realizes that there are many stunning pieces that would make coveted additions to any collection.
Of course, Halloween TV specials not withstanding, there are some misconceptions about mourning jewelry. For example, did you know that this type of jewelry is not something that was invented when Great Britain’s Queen Victoriawent into deep mourning for Prince Albert in 1861? In fact, mourners used special jewelry items as long ago as the 16th century to remember family members and friends who had passed on.
Yet because manufacturing processes had greatly improved by 1861, the Victorian Era is by many considered the official heyday of mourning jewelry since it was finally accessible to the masses. It is another common misconception that this type of jewelry always contained a lock of hair from the departed. Rather, there were a number of options open to wearers. Societal standing and available funds dictated the choices.
Black jewelry.Set in gold, jewelry pieces featuring jet, onyx and gutta percha were a common site. If jet was considered too pricy, other options included vulcanite, black enamel and even black glass.
Hair work. Some of the most personalized pieces featured human hairs that became part of the setting or the decorative touches. No, this hair was not always snipped from the head of the dead. Rather, it was obtained by paying the poor to cut off their tresses. British jewelers also imported hair from other countries.
Cameos.Well-to-do families commissioned mourning cameos that bore a likeness to the departed loved one. Painted portraits that were enclosed in lockets were another favorite.
So why is the Victorian Era so commonly associated with mourning jewelry? Since Queen Victoria spent the rest of her life grieving over Prince Albert, the British court is said to have become a cult of bereavement. Societal conventions and acceptable fashions sprang up over the course of the four decades that the queen mourned.
It is interesting to note that the novice looking to buy mourning jewelry will do well to enlist the assistance of a seasoned jeweler. You see, some lockets bearing a lock of hair were not actually mourning jewelry. In fact, they were frequently exchanged between lovers and those recently engaged to be married. The same is true for rings that bear inscriptions such as “dearest” or “forever.” Only an experienced jeweler can differentiate authentic mourning jewelry from other fashionable pieces of the time. 
We hope you enjoyed this blog post on mourning jewelry and if you love vintage, antique or estate jewelry, we invite you to stop by our showroom located at 1137 High Ridge Road in Stamford, Connecticut.
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