This is reproduced from a Live Show and Tell that Sarah Nehama and I did on Instagram on July 17th, 2016 where we explained the history of Mourning and Sentimental jewelry- 17th -20th centuries- as it was shown through a series of live posts from our own personal collections.
Memento Mori Ring
A 17th century ring with round medallion engraved with a grinning skull in the center, surrounded by the Latin phrase “Spes Lucis Aeternae,” or Hope of an Eternal Life. Decorated with round punches spaced around the medallion close to the edge. A simple silver band attached to the underside. Possible Italian, judging by the script (according to the dealer) but came from a German collection. A popular phrase in the 17th century, the motto was found in heraldry, carvings, paintings, etc. It may have been used as a wax seal, given the detail and depth of carving.
Lover’s Knot Ring
Georgian gold ring, 15K-18K, circa 1750-1765 set w/red spinels (one replaced w/ruby) surrounding a lover’s knot hair token on ivory or card under crystal, oval shape. Fluted back of bezel, reeded shank. Shank a professional later replacement, possible sizing. This ring is for sale here.
An English oval gold clasp, c. 1760-80, with woven brown hair, the cipher CS topped with a coronet for an Earl (5 “pearls”, 4 “strawberry leaves”; see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crown_%28heraldry%29), atop the hair, this surrounded by an ivory frame with bows and branches done in ink (like scrimshaw) and covered with glass. Measures 1.5x 1.25”
A late 18th century (c. 1780) brooch/pendant, oval in shape, in rose gold, with a domed glazed compartment containing a lover’s knot in light hair “tied” with a ribbon of silver set with small rose-cut diamonds on a background of ivory. Surrounded a blue guilloche enamel border set with forget-me-nots in gold. The reverse has an oval, slightly domed glazed compartment with hair in a basketweave design topped with gold initials EH. Measures 1 3/8” x 3/16”
Allegory of Friendship Ring
A navette-shaped ring with a miniature in sepia on ivory of a woman leaning on a bare tree with drooping branches, with a vine twisting up the trunk. She is dressed in gown with a garland in her hair, her feet are bare, and she points to her heart. There is a motto around the collar and hem of her dress in Latin: “Longe et Prope” and “Mors et Vita”. She is Friendship, and the motto means Far and Near, Death and Life. The symbolism refers to true friendship- the tree and vine signify that true friendship is based on mutual support and interdependence. The dead tree (probably an elm) signifies that a true friend does not abandon another in distress. The miniature is surrounded by 30 rose cut diamonds set in silver over a gold base. The 18K gold shank is constructed of looped wire bordered by reeded edges, culminating in a triple reeded band at the back. The ring originally dates to circa 1785, while the shank may be a later replacement (c. 1820), but then again, this combination could be the original construction. There is a stamp on the inner shank: 18 Ct.
I have only seen a handful of these over the years- always with the same image of the turtledoves tying a Lover’s Knot between them. I have never been entirely sure if they are purely Sentimental or have mourning undertones. They are sometimes in French- Le Plus Lion Le Plus Serre’ – translating to The Further I Fly, The Firmer I Tie as in the bottom fob. Other times the inscription is in English – The Farther I Fly The Faster I Tie, as seen in the top brooch. Since all the images I’ve seen are basically the same, I can conclude that these were standard Love Tokens of the late 18th Century. Generally, they indicate a bond between two people that strengthens with distance- be that distance metaphorical or literal. It could be a love token given as one is literally traveling, or if could be a statement of mourning meaning that “even death cannot separate our bond.” Either way, these are touching items of devotion and love.
French Amatory Brooch
These brooches are fascinating in that they are known as a particularly French variety of Sentimental jewelry called Amatory jewels. They were popular in the late 1700’s and are made to resemble a bouquet of flowers. They are interesting to me in that while some do contain hair, many (like this one) are made to NOT contain hair at all, so they are more about Love, than what we think of traditionally as “Mourning.” In that regard, they fall into the category of Sentimental Jewelry. Many of these pins were made in England in a French Style. To tell them apart, antique jewelry expert Jacqueline Babush gave me a tip that I’ll now pass on to you. If the background is guilloche’ enamel, it’s French. If it’s blue glass, commonly called Bristol Blue since the glass was produced in Bristol, England, it’s the English alternative.
Two mourning miniatures on ivory contained within one round locket; the first side is of a child’s face, with his/her eyes closed, framed by wings and perhaps clouds in a variegated blue palette, suggesting a deceased child who is now with the angels. The other side in the sepia shows a plinth with an urn; the motto on the plinth is “Rest In Peace.” Weeping willows surround the monument, with fainter cypress trees in the background. The body of the urn is fashioned from women hair with a pearl in the center. Circa 1800. Measures 1 3/8″ diameter.
Chrysolite Ring with Hair
An 18k gold cigar band ring with a round galssed compartm-ent with women hair surrounded by 12 facedted chrysolites (chrysoberyls). Circa 1800-1810
15K rose gold ring with central plaited hair under crystal surrounded by twelve faceted Goode died 6 Jany 1822 aged 19.jet stones (or possibly black garnets) set in pie-crust closed back settings, with stranded shank, engraved on the underside of the bezel: Jane Goode Died 6 Jany 1822 Aged 19. This ring is for sale here.
Portrait Miniature Bracelet with Hair
A portrait miniature on ivory of a young woman in a landscaped background; she wears a pink off–the-shoulder dress with white lace trim, her pale brown/blonde hair in ringlets. This oval portrait is housed in an ornate solid 18K case, elaborately engraved and enameled in black, which is attached to a woven hair bracelet, presumably the hair of the young lady, as the color is the same. The whole piece is of extremely fine quality and well constructed. There is a small surface crack in the ivory running through the left side of the woman’s face, and a small portion of the hair bracelet near the case is loose but not unwoven. There are a few minor chips to the enamel, but nothing major. Elle Shushan of Philadelphia, based on viewing the photos, believes this bracelet is French in origin, miniature, case, and hairwork, all. Dates it to circa 1835.
A circa 1845-50 American daguerreotype of a man with a striped vest and dark hair housed behind beveled glass in a gilt metal locket with and engine turned back (no hair window on reverse). Measures 2” x 1 5/8”
A Victorian set consisting of an oval brooch/pendant in 14K gold (tested, not marked), with onyx or French jet stones. Oval glazed center with a curl of blonde hair set on top of black material, framed in a gold bezel with twisted wire surround, surrounded also by varying shapes of beveled onyx (crescent, tear-drop, round) set in individual bezels with beaded edges and separated by gold granules. Reverse has the original pin findings as well as an original loop for a chain. The earrings are the same materials- central oval panel with one blonde curl on black material covered with glass, surrounded by gold bezel and twisted wire, and decorated with black onyx in varying shapes. Reverse has an ear wire in a hinge at top with a C-hook closure. There’s also a small loop at the bottom on the back, possibly had a further drop at one time (I may get something black and make an additional drop).
Victorian Onyx and pearl set
As the Victorian period progressed, the populace became disenchanted with the Queen’s perpetual mourning. As a result, jewelry became less like a staple of mourning fashion and more like the beautiful jewelry people wanted at the time. The black onyx allowed it to conform to the Queen’s standards, yet still be fashionable within the Grand Era of the Victorian period. I love this style because it’s still mourning jewelry without being “Mourning Jewelry”, if you know what I mean! This whole set, while each displaying a different image, all works together to form a cohesive whole. The Victorians loved their symbols and there was an entire language to flowers and plants. If you look at the underlying meaning behind each of these plants, a story emerges. Lilly of the Valley means “sweetness,” but has an underlying meaning of having made someone’s life complete. Wheat, while generally standing for “prosperity,” has a deeper meaning of someone who lived a rich, full life; a person who has reaped the benefits of a life well lived. Taken together, one can see the story of this set as having been made to celebrate someone who lived a long, successful and happy life. This was someone who enriched the lives of others. We should all be as lucky as the person for whom this was made!
Victorian mourning pins
One of the things that I like so much about Late Victorian jewelry is that it allows us to wear a piece of history without it looking like traditional mourning jewelry as I said in the previous post. Many of us are uncomfortable wearing something attached to a concept like mourning, especially when there’s someone else’s hair in it. These pendant conversions I made from pins let you wear antique jewelry that just looks like a beautiful necklace, in an updated, modern way. Pieces containing seed pearls are made for the period of mourning known as Half Mourning- or the later stages when the restrictions on dress were being lifted. The pearls, while representing tears in mourning, symbolically meant a “return to life” after the full mourning period. We all go through stages of our lives where we feel like we are in mourning. It’s nice to have a reminder that we all allowed to be happy. These gold and black onyx pendant conversions serve as that reminder and are all sold separately. The carved black onyx pendant is $150. The black onyx, gold and seed pearl Clover pendant (which means “Think of Me”) is $199. The black onyx, gold and seed pearl decorative center pendant is $425. Message me on Facebook or Instagram. The chain shown is for visualization purposes and is not included in sales.
This ring shows how the tradition of mourning lingered into the 20th Century. There were some people who weren’t ready to let go of the traditional customs of the precious centuries. These people used a “modern” interpretation with a photo in a celluloid or Bakelite ring called a Prison Ring.
The concept of Mourning Jewelry has even followed us into the 21st century. Join me in my next blog as I show you some modern designers who are reinterpreting Mourning Jewelry today!