Mourning and Remembrance Jewelry

Queen Victoria wearing a bracelet made from King Albert's hair

When Queen Victoria’s husband King Albert died in 1861, she fell into a “deeper grieving” or depression and remained in mourning attire for the rest of her life. Queen Victoria’s widespread influence perpetuated displays of grief as she and her royal subjects did.

Death was a constant occurrence for Victorians. War, disease, poor sanitary health conditions, inadequate food supplies, and the lack of accessible medical care contributed to the era’s average life span of 50 years. English people embraced the teachings of Christianity and were devout in their beliefs. To them, death was not a tragedy, but to die and not be properly mourned was a deep fear.

Of the many displayed forms of mourning and remembrance, jewelry played a large part. These sentimental jewels commemorated weddings, friendships, business deals, and romantic attachments. Popular motifs like flowers and leaves were used, but actual strands of hair were the most widely used and accepted personal keepsake. Teeth were occasionally used. Queen Victoria is believed to have worn a bracelet made from the baby teeth of her nine children. After King Albert’s death, she wore jewelry made from his hair on a daily basis and even gave pieces made from her own hair away.

Sounds kind of gross, but these mourning jewels were and still are highly valuable and collectible. Pieces with personal identification paper linking it to a dead soul made it even more valuable, in addition to engravings.

(Top) Gold brooch made from open-weave hair in two colors, decorated with gold design and center seed pearl c. 1870s (Below) The original bill of sale $300 – 325

Modern day equivalents of morning and remembrance jewelry still exist today. For example, a locket. Lockets also existed back in the day where snippets of hair and even photographs were inserted.

Brett, Mary. Fashionable Mourning Jewelry, Clothing and Customs. Atglen: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2006. Print.

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