The Shop at 49 Grove Street

Friday, November 5, 2010

Mourning Jewelry

Angela and Lulu here, the newest additions to the Lori McLean jewelry store! 
In honor of Halloween, we decided to (belatedly) post about one of our favorite types of antique jewelry: Mourning Jewelry.

Mourning Jewelry became popular in the Victorian Era, when Queen Victoria entered an intense period of grief following Prince Albert's death in 1861. Renouncing ostentatious jewelry and choosing to wear drab, dark-colored clothing, the Queen set the tone for her stark reputation as an austere monarch who shunned opulence and subscribed to a strict code of morality.

Queen Victoria in mourning dress, 1873
Today, the concept of mourning attire strikes many as morbid, but Victorians found the practice deeply consoling, and used jewelry and somber dress as a vivid expression of remembrance and sentiment. The year immediately following the death of a loved one was known as "First Mourning," and dictated black clothes and minimal jewelry. Jet, a lustrous black mineral made from fossilized wood, was used extensively in early mourning jewelry.

Whitby Jet Mourning Ring

The marquis-shaped jet ring (above, c. 1880) is a great example of mourning jewelry  and a recently acquired favorite! 
After the first year began the "Half Mourning" stage, which allowed for the introduction of clothing in muted colors such as gray and lavender, and slightly more ornate jewelry with pearls, garnets and gold. Most jewelry we associate with mourning belongs to this later period, where the expectations for an outward expression of grief were relaxed. 

A great selection of mid- to late-19th century mourning jewelry on display in our vintage case; including a French Jet Ladies Watch Chain and a beautiful Vulcanite Locket (bottom right) and hand and garland brooch.

Also pictured above, and below in detail, is one of our favorite pieces, a late 19th century Piqué Tortoiseshell locket from Italy. Piqué is a technique where gold or silver is inlaid into the surface of horn or tortoiseshell. In this case, silver and mother of pearl spell out the word "Ricordo," which means memory.  

Late 19th Century Piqué Tortoiseshell Locket

Photographs, locks of hair (often taken from the recently deceased),  and velvet, which referenced funeral shrouds, were prized as relics of love and commonly incorporated. The bracelet below is a museum piece dating back from 1866. They were often woven by children whose tiny fingers were better suited for such intricate work! 

Hair Bracelet, c. 1866

We have several pieces in our vintage case which incorporate hair , like the pendant/pin shown below. It contains a tiny blonde lock, and according to the inscription on the back, dates back to 1828 in commemoration of "L.L." who died at only 3 years of age. The pearls symbolize tears, and the black jet border is typical of the style used in Half Mourning jewelry. 

Gold and Pearl Victorian Memorial Hair Locket (c. 1828) - $328 


Despite the ambivalence many people have regarding mourning jewelry, we find these pieces beautiful and compelling! We love how much history they carry with them as well as their sentimentality. Stop by the shop sometime if you are pieces are constantly arriving courtesy of Lori's incredible eye and we are more than happy to spend the day showing off her finds!