Jewelry History: Mourning Rings and Hair Jewelry
As Halloween and Dia de los Muertos creep up on us, Custom Jewelry thought it would be a good time to take a look at one of the more macabre and eccentric jewelry traditions: mourning rings and hair jewelry. Now, this style of jewelry has a very special place in my heart. I’ve been fascinated by hair jewelry since I learned of it’s existence in high school. So throughout the years, it has been a surprise to me that so many people are unfamiliar with it — and incredibly creeped out by it once they do learn of it.
OK, I get it. Wearing someone else’s hair as a decorative ornament, if taken objectively, is creepy. But, in its truest forms, mourning rings and hair jewelry were simply used to remember loved ones who had passed on from the wearer’s lives. And many times, it was worn while the person was still living as a token of love and affection. See, not as creepy as originally thought, right? No takers? Bueller?
Mourning jewelry has been around for some time, but really started to come into fashion in the late 1600s, early 1700s. At its start, there was little to no hair involved at all, but rather dates, names, and miniature portraits of significant people. It wasn’t until the reign of King George that miniature portraiture jewelry took fashion by storm as a way for the gentry to show support of the ailing king by wearing his portrait on a ring or brooch. Eventually the portraiture of King George gave way to a more commonly accepted practice of wearing portraiture of loved ones, and jewelry makers started creating pieces more customized to their buyers. Then, during the Victorian era mourning jewelry became fully mainstream and branched out into other types of memorium jewelry, such as the crosswork hair mourning rings, bracelets, and the rock crystal memorial rings people are more familiar with.
While slightly macabre, I’m fairly certain my fascination with mourning jewelry (and especially rings) stems from how much these little artifacts tell us about the everyday people who wore them. Each piece generally has a wealth of symbolism that goes with it, as well as most every piece is marked with the names and dates of the person who has been memorialized. It’s like getting to glimpse into history while simply shaking someone’s hand. And even now, whenever I come across another great example of mourning jewelry, I can’t help but wonder who wore it, and why they found it so important to memorialize the person for whom it was worn. It’s beautiful really.
With that, I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite mourning rings outlined above — and even a picture of the one I have in my own jewelry collection. While not as fancy as the others shown, I love it, as each day it reminds me that someone was loved enough to have a ring made to remember them.
Mourning rings, clockwise from top left: