Welcome back! It’s always fun to see new designers, so in this blog I’m going to show you some great modern designers who are reinterpreting Mourning Jewelry and Memento Mori Jewelry for the 21st Century!
Acanthus jewelry creates a whole line of cool jewelry with oxidized silver and 24 karat gold accents. The contrast is not only very visually appealing, it’s very NOW. To have styles that harken back to yesteryear is also a cool contrast in itself. **See the historical notes at the end of this blog in relation to the Vanitas pendant.
I love this modern take on a mourning keepsake. I hear many people tell me that they’d never wear jewelry that contained hair from someone they didn’t know. If you don’t like the idea of having traditional mourning jewelry to remember a loved one, how about turning the keepsake tradition into a shadowbox pendant? It doesn’t have to contain hair at all! This pendant contains denim from a father’s favorite pair of jeans wrapped in gold wire, a diamond tie clip he wore because the diamond was both of their birthstones, a loose emerald and turquoise, plus the Levi’s tag from his jeans! It’s such a loving sentiment and way to remember someone who has gone before us.
I found Arcana Obscura through a hashtag search on Instagram when I was doing my Show and Tell on Mourning Jewelry. I kept coming across these really interesting new pieces that were representations of cemetery art. After the 3rd or 4th image, I had to find out more. Katie Hockstein is a one woman show who makes each piece to order in a variety of metals. Besides traditional death’s heads and Tempus Fugit images directly from 18th century cemeteries, she also makes snakes, daggers and crescent moons that you won’t be able to live without. I also realized that there is a name for people like me who like to walk in cemeteries (hey- they’re quiet and have cool sculpture!). “Tombstone Tourists” are called taphophiles. I had to look it up because she has a skull band with that name!
We’re all pretty obsessed with Lover’s Eye’s jewelry, so when I found out that Kim of Estate Jewelry Mama is making modern versions of these pieces, I was excited. She’s not only making them from original materials, she’s making them using original techniques! I’m sure you’re really anxious to see the whole new line called “ink and Ivory,” but this is just a sneak preview. The line isn’t even out yet, so you’ll have to wait to see more! Not all Lovers’ Eyes were made as mourning jewels. In fact, the first and most famous one was made to propose (read that story here). As with all good design though, the style wound its way around to remember those who have gone before us. With Estate Jewelry Mama’s jewelry, you can decide which meaning you prefer. Either way, you can find them soon!
Few people have the eye for mourning jewelry that Sarah Nehama has. She wrote a wonderfully informative book on the subject when she curated a show of Mourning Jewelry at the Massachusetts Historical Society. It seems like a natural extension of her psyche to reinvent mourning jewelry in her own personal way. The way she chooses to do that is to upcycle old Tin Type photographs into one of a kind, hand-made jewelry. Tin types and Daguerreotypes were often used in mourning jewels of the Mid-19th Century, when they displaced portrait miniatures as the medium of choice for capturing someone’s likeness. Sarah uses tin types of children and adults and often tries to find more obscure tin type photographs, like two women reading or two men playing cards!
If you like signet rings and memento mori, Vulpecula Jewelry is for you! These rings are cast from Georgian and Victorian wax seals. The phrases are Biblical, as is the case with the Vanitas ring, or from 19th Century poems about a King’s ring, as in the “Even This Shall Pass Away” ring. If you can’t get enough of historical explanations, please continue reading the notes at the end of this blog.
William L Griffiths is a Master Goldsmith. I don’t mean that he’s a really good jeweler although he is that. Master Goldsmith is actually a title, for those of you who may not have known. It’s a title one can only assume after YEARS of study and apprenticeship. The process usually requires a degree from an accredited institution, an apprenticeship and the ability to have mastered many, many forms of traditional goldsmithing techniques. Look up what’s required one day. You’ll learn words you never knew existed and each of those words equates to a rigorous training schedule (and often decades of time) to master. Think of these people as the PhD’s of the jewelry world. The techniques required and the process itself, have not changed much from the Guilds put in place in The Middle Ages. It’s an honor to be a Master Goldsmith and it’s an honor to feature two of them here in this blog today.
Just look at this amazing pendant and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
If it’s skulls you want, then skulls you shall have! A lot of designers make skull rings from the incomparable Anthony Lent on the East Coast (also a Master Goldsmith) to the Gent’s line, King Baby, on the West Coast (and many more in between). Skulls are just cool right now, so they’re not necessarily indicative of “mourning” or memento mori per se in designers’ eyes. In fact, skulls represent many things in art such as wisdom and power. The great thing about the jewelry we wear though is that WE get to choose its meaning.
Credits from left to right- top to bottom: Anthony Lent (author’s photo from globalDesign 2016); Arcana Obscura ( photo used by permission from Arcana Obscura), Acanthus Jewelry (photo used by permission from Liz Katner) and King Baby (author’s photo from In House Jewelers visit 2016)
I hope you have gained a new appreciation for a centuries’ old art. There are many ways to bring the tradition into the 21st century, this blog features just a few! Maybe it will inspire you to want to wear one of the pieces I’ve featured, in which case, the links take you to the artists’ sites. Perhaps, though, this will inspire you to create your own new tradition, in which case, I want to hear about it! Please contact me on Facebook or Instagram.
“Vanitas” in the memento mori tradition stems from two places. The first is a genre of paintings in the 15th -17th centuries that is directly correlative of memento mori. The second is the Biblical verse from Ecclesiastes, “Vanitas vanitatum, omnia vanitas” which the genre of paintings stems from. In English, the Latin translates to “Vanity of Vanities, All is Vanity.” The meaning of which becomes a sentiment of the transience of life. The paintings from Antonio De Pereda and Harmen Steenwijck remind us too of that same transience.