Jewelry History

Victorian funeral decorations: love, remember, grieve

Mourning jewelry evokes mixed feelings of awe and rejection. They allow us to touch something otherworldly and at the same time preserve the memory of a loved one.

Along with fashion and people’s view of death, mourning jewelry has changed. In this article, we will look at mourning jewelry from the Victorian era.

The Cult of Death

The Victorian era brought special orders to the culture of mourning, from which an entire cult grew. At the head of this cult was Queen Victoria.

Victoria and Albert’s marriage was atypical for its time. It was not another marriage of convenience – young people sincerely loved each other.

Twenty-one years into their marriage, Albert died of typhoid fever. From this blow Victoria never recovered. And the monarch’s lifelong mourning could not but affect the culture of the country.

Mourning was not just a personal matter – it became regulated. Clear rules and duration of mourning were established. They depended on the degree of kinship with the deceased, social status, and age. It was customary to wear special clothes and accessories for the duration of mourning, to maintain a low-key lifestyle and to furnish the home in a fitting manner. Funerals had a status character and became enriched with new customs, etiquette and attributes.

It was a kind of return to the theme of death after the life-affirming 18th century. In the Middle Ages death was much closer to everyday life. Even then, mourning decorations were quite common. But unlike their later “relatives,” they were more of an edifying nature. They had no aesthetics and subtle symbolism. Memento mori – that was the main message which images of skeletons, coffins and skulls carried.

Victoria changed that. She was a 19th century woman partial to symbolism and sentimentalism. This was reflected in her style, and the royal style resonated with the people. So the icon of mourning became also an icon of fashion.

The feast of symbolism

Crosses, skulls and skeletons were replaced by winged cherubs, clouds, urns and weeping willows. These new images reflected a change in philosophy: God was imagined not as a strict judge but as an observant father. Soft and sentimental images seemed more appropriate to express these beliefs.

Dark materials were used for mourning jewelry. Among popular ones were agate, black amber, fumed oak, black glass (gagate), onyx, gutta-percha (resin).

Black is by no means the only color of sorrow. The color of stones in jewelry changed according to the period of mourning.

Jewelry stones became an additional marker of the relationship with the deceased.

  • Cat’s eye symbolizes platonic love.
  • Alexandrite – strength, justice
  • Carneol – grief for a friend
  • Fire opal – fortitude
  • Lapis lazuli – tenderness, nobility
  • Opal – hope
  • Zirconium – esteem
  • Pearls – tears

Hair jewelry

Every epoch has its place for unusual curiosities, but the Victorian epoch excelled in it more than others. Among mourning jewelry, hair jewelry deserves a special mention.

Keeping locks of hair was not always considered part of mourning. People used to keep them as a memento if a loved one simply went far away. Men’s hair accessories could serve as a symbol of engagement or marriage. For example, a lover would give a watch chain woven from her hair.

But Victoria’s significant piece of mourning jewelry was a locket of her spouse’s hair. Thus a special purpose was assigned to this category.

The hair was woven into a bracelet, a chain or a ring. But much more aesthetic look compositions – abstract and even subject.

Hair jewelry was made mainly by middle-class women whose skills were highly valued.

Ornaments could be made from the hair of not one person, but several. This confirms that such things symbolize parting. But even if it is about a dead person, it is not so much about death as it is about sentimental feelings and connection with others.