What do you think about mourning jewelry? In the Netherlands, it becomes more and more popular to press the ashes of a loved one into a small diamond and set that in a jewel. Or use hair in a jewel as a remembrance of the one who passes away.

We know the tradition of wearing the wedding ring of your deceased partner next to your own wedding ring, but using ashes or hair is a bit new in the Netherlands.

So curious as I am I start to search other examples of mourning jewelry and it seems that this custom is rather old. Let me tell you what I found out.

Lady with necklace made of hair, 1830-1840

Lady wearing a necklace made of hair, 1830-1840

Mourning jewelry during times

From the Middle Ages in Europe mourning jewelry is worn. Most of the time it is a piece of hair set into a pendant for a necklace or a memory ring when a king dies (King Charles I of England). But also Queen Victoria, Napoleon de Bonaparte or Admiral Nelson owns memory jewelry.

Queen Victoria makes mourning jewelry more popular…

Queen Victoria is one of the first persons in the Victorian Period that wears mourning jewelry made from hair. Hair is popular to use in mourning jewelry because it has chemicals that make it possible that hair does not decay and keeps its substance during ages and ages. And hair is so personal that keeping it in your jewelry feels like the diseased person is always with you.

Making mourning jewelry with hair is a blessing in the sky for the old wig makers that don’t get any work after the popularity of wearing wigs declines. In the Victorian Period, you cannot be seen with a powdered wig, without looking ridiculous. While in the 17th and 18th century you really cannot leave your home without one. That is… when you are of ‘noble blood’.

Necklace made of braided hair, 1820-1850

Necklace made of braided hair, 1820-1850

Necklace made of braided hair, 1820-1850

… But only for the well to do class.

Hair artists and goldsmiths create little miracles with hair, gold, gemstones, and pearls. These pieces of jewelry are very expensive. About around the middle of the Victorian Period, some tutorials are available for the lesser gods around the goldsmiths. They make lesser expensive mourning jewelry that becomes available for the lower classes too.

Some of the hair jewelry is made from braids or pieces of hair the artists buy from poor women, but most of the used hair comes from family, friends and the deceased persons themselves.

Hair jewelry becomes fashion around Europe.

In the 19th-century women start to make their own hair jewelry or mourning jewelry at home. In America, there is a magazine with patterns and guidelines on how to make a hair jewel. Most of the women can not afford expensive findings so they use wooden beads covered with hair and beaded on a string of hair.

There is a reason for the uprising of the home hair making industry. Because you never know for sure whether the goldsmith really uses the hair from your loved one. And making it yourself is a better choice when you don’t trust someone to do it for you.

Brooch made of gold and hair.

Brooch made of gold and hair.

Russian mourning jewelry

On an exhibition in the Hermitage Museum in Amsterdam, there are a few pieces of mourning jewelry on display that are owned by Russian noblemen and family of the Russian Tsar. Impressive brooches, necklaces, and even embroidered handkerchieves are seen there. Just have a look at the images in this blog post and I bet that you must admit that these hair jewels and mourning jewelry are exquisite.

Necklace made of braided hair, 1820-1850

Necklace made of braided hair, 1820-1850

Necklace made of braided hair, 1820-1850

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