Georgian & Victorian Mourning Jewellery History

Georgian & Victorian Mourning Jewellery History

Mourning jewellery was popular for years before the Victorian era, the Georgians loved macabre mourning jewellery that had images of skeletons and Death. 

Mourning jewellery

A memento mori pendant (circa 1540).
Source - GIA.

In fact one our most recent finds is a Georgian Lapis Lazuli Pearl Gold Mourning Ring dating to Circa. 1815, the oldest piece of jewellery we currently have in stock.

Mourning ring

Meticulously crafted in gold, this ring embodies the exquisite craftsmanship and elegance of the era.
The intricate details and delicate design showcase the artistry of the period, while the inscription "Edmund Cotterill Ob 9 Feb 1815 Ae 41" adds a touch of historical significance and personal connection. Ob is the latin abbreviation for obitus (death) and ae is short for aetatis or aetas (years or time of life).

Mourning ring

This is one of the earliest inscriptions we have had to date. An extraordinary blend of precious gemstones, pearls, and a cherished piece of history.
Victorian mourning jewellery was primarily focused on memorialising the individual. Often, jewellery would be inscribed with the name, birth, and death date of the loved one.
The popularity of mourning jewellery reached its peak during the Victorian era (1837-1901). Queen Victoria was deeply in love with her husband, Prince Albert, and when he died in 1861, she fell into a long depression. Queen Victoria spent much of the next four decades wearing black crepe dresses and mourning jewellery. 

Victorian Era

Widows were expected to wear mourning attire for up to two years following the death of their husbands, although it was often worn for the rest of their lives.

Source - Gatsby Jewellery.

As Queen Victoria set the example for her court and was an admired public figure, wearing mourning jewellery became fashionable.
Aristocrats and the wealthy commissioned lockets, bracelets, necklaces, and rings to memorialise their loved ones. Common materials included jet, onyx, pearls, dark tortoise shell, and black enamel. White enamel was used in jewellery to memorialise unmarried women and children.
Below is an example of black enamel being used to signify mourning.

Mourning ring

This rare Antique Georgian mourning ring features pristine Black Enamelling, modelled in 18ct Yellow Gold.
The inside of the band is fully engraved reading "Harriet. Scott, died 30 Mar. 1831, aged 30 yrs." The outside also reads 'S.U.S.H MARIA CONOLLY OB.18.DEC 1830. AE 32.'
Symbols of Mourning in Victorian Era Jewellery
Gone were the skulls and crossbones of memento mori jewellery of the Middle Ages. Instead winged cherubs, clouds, mourners sobbing at tombs, urns, and weeping willows took their place.

Mourning jewellery

Small pieces of hair under the base of the urn and in the willow tree. The white enamel suggests the deceased was unmarried; the individual died on 19 January 1784 at the age of 51.

Source - GIA.

These new images reflected a change in philosophy: God was no longer envisioned as the exacting judge of the Middle Ages, but as a father watching his children at play in his world. This softer and more sentimental imagery was more appropriate to express these beliefs.
Georgian & Victorian Era Hair Jewellery
Jewellery that contained locks of a loved one’s hair was particularly popular during the Victorian era. The Victorians believed that hair had a sacred quality because it contained something of the essence of the person, it also symbolised immortality.

Hair jewellery

This quality Antique Georgian pendant features a halo of Pearls surrounding a glass locket, dating to circa.1830.The locket is complete with a lock of blonde hair. 
Mourning Jewellery Reincarnated
You probably won’t find Victorian era mourning jewellery lining a display case of your local jeweller, though these antique jewellery pieces are prized by collectors and are exhibited in museums. But you’ll probably see skull jewellery used as a fashion accessory today. The imagery used in memento mori jewellery has been resurrected as a hip symbol of rebellion and fearlessness.

Skull jewellery

skull ring

We often find vintage / modern skull jewellery and have a few pieces currently in stock.
In the end, perhaps mourning jewellery can be thought of more as an expression of love than of grief. Its purpose was to keep a departed beloved one near to the heart.

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Here at Lancastrian Jewellers, we stock a great range of jewellery from antique pieces to modern classics, we have something for everyone.
You can browse more of our Georgian Jewellery and Victorian Jewellery here.
Please get in touch if you need any further help finding the perfect piece of jewellery.

Further Reading:

If you'd like to expand your knowledge on Mourning jewellery even further, we recommend taking look at the links below. 
1. Antique Jewelry: Mourning Jewelry of the Victorian Era - GIA.
2. What is Victorian Mourning Jewellery? - Gatsby Jewellery.
3. Objects of love and loss: mourning jewellery - Museum of London.


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