It’s a universal desire to commemorate our love for one another. It’s certainly nothing new. People have suffered great personal loss since the beginning of time. And at some point, in centuries past, it seemed fitting to memorialize a loved one’s passing with decorative objects.
You have to step back much further than the Victorian era. Many jewelry lovers associate mourning jewelry with Queen Victoria’s lengthy period of mourning, well over 40 years to be exact.
Looking Back for Inspiration
Looking back to England’s Georgian era, which is an exceptionally long period from 1714-1830, we can witness some important mourning accessories.
But actually, we could harken back to earlier centuries, prior to the mid-1600s, and see what was important to people during that time. Memento mori jewelry was hugely popular during that epoch – and it served more to remind the wearer of the vulnerability of this fleeting life.
Memento mori is a Latin expression meaning ‘Remember that you will die.” And there was a lot of that during those times. Children did not often survive their childhood, and adults routinely succumbed early to diseases we consider mild annoyances today.
Bonnie King Charles I
By 1649, when King Charles I was executed, royalists wanted a way to show their devotion to the king. So many commissioned jewelries with likenesses of the king on them. That started a trend toward commemorative jewelry, to focus on the grief one suffered, and brought a sense of consolation when wearing it.
The Georgian era exploded with mourning jewelry, at least for the very wealthy who could commission custom pieces with bits of hair embedded, or tiny painted portraits of loved ones in a brooch.
The Long, Long Victorian Era
By the time Victoria ascended the throne, she was a young queen who dazzled her kingdom flaunting abundant sparkling jewels of every kind and color. When her relatively young husband, Prince Albert died suddenly in 1861, Victoria went into a period of mourning from which she never recovered. During the rest of her reign – and indeed her life – she only wore mourning jewelry.
Black or dark stones were the only suitable jewelry to be worn by the queen, as colorful accessories were not to be used. The only exception would be that she wore diamonds from time to time, owing to the fact that they were ‘colorless.’
Victoria’s jewelry was jet, bog oak, onyx, vulcanite, anything black. It also included miniature portraits of Albert and perhaps some with locks of his hair. She wore this type of jewelry until the day she died, in 1901. The entire British empire followed suit. Black (and dark bohemian garnet) jewelry became wildly popular. You can still find examples of it today that have survived through the years.
A Modern Take on the Theme
While jewelry lovers aren’t overwhelmingly devoted to the gloomy Victorian or Georgian mourning emblems today, modern collectors have found updated ways to memorialize a loved one. Fingerprint jewelry – either in pendants, earrings, or rings have found their place in the commemorative jewelry niche. People can capture a loved one’s finger print while they are still alive and have it interpreted into a personalized jewelry piece. It’s not uncommon for funeral homes to sensitively offer the service of collecting a fingerprint of a deceased loved one for use in a memorable jewelry item at a later point.
Furry paws are considered members of the family too. Veterinarians often help grieving owners by capturing a final paw print of their kitty or pooch to be transformed into a treasured commemorative jewelry item later on. The equine set are not forgotten – horse owners are known to snip a long lock of their horse’s tail when it goes down – and have the course hair made into attractive belts or bangles.
People will always want highly personalized jewelry – something that tells their story, their way. And a modern way might be something as obvious as creating a piece of jewelry with meaningful colored stones. Birthstones of loved ones, or favorite colors of a beloved could dominate a custom piece of jewelry. Stones from memorable locations in the life of the wearer can bring comfort and consolation today – just like a lock of hair did in Victorian times for a mourning lady.
What Can You Offer?
There are endless opportunities to provide precious jewelry with a highly personalized meaning for your customers today. And they’ll thank you for working with them on what will be the perfect memorial for a loved one. What are your favorite suggestions for your customers?
Award winning trade journalist and gemologist Diana Jarrett is a Registered Master Valuer Appraiser and a member of the Association of Independent Jewellery Valuers (AIJV). She’s a popular speaker at conferences and trade shows. Jarrett writes for trade and consumer publications, online outlets, her blog: Color-n-Ice, and www.jewelrywebsitedesigners.com. Contact her at email@example.com, visit her website at www.dianajarrett.com, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter (Loupey).