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Did You Know? Making Sense of Mourning Jewelry

Did You Know? Making Sense of Mourning Jewelry

Jewelry is frequently used as a way to commemorate an occasion or remember someone by, but mourning jewelry takes the sentiment to a higher level by incorporating sayings, artwork, engraving and specific materials (think: hair and bone) to create a wearable (and often beautiful) memorial for someone loved and gone.

Originating as far back as the 1600s and becoming more ubiquitous through the 1800s, mourning jewelry is perhaps the most expressive form of jewelry simply for the emotional meaning and messaging behind it. The pieces, whether modest, dark and with little embellishment, or ornate, engraved and set with a diamond, all carry a strong sense of grief, spirituality and loss, and before the invention of photography were used as a touchstone to keep a deceased relative close.


Beladora earrings in W Magazine’s “Mourning Glory” story

There was tremendous creativity to mourning jewelry, with people making pieces ranging from lockets to pocket watches and rings to brooches. Various materials used symbolized different things as well as the different stages of mourning. For instance, the use of pearl indicated the loss of a child; white enamel meant the woman died single and a virgin. Black enamel was the most common material used and often set in gold that was engraved with a saying about life, death and loss, as well as the person’s name and age when they passed.

As each piece is deeply personal, there are symbolic images representing the person or family sometimes painted onto the face of a ring or locket, or on the darker side, images directly about death, such as skeletons or coffins.

Mourning jewelry evolved to include photographs of the deceased and also hair of the person “painted” onto jewelry or entwined and set into a ring or locket and even used as the material to make a cord or entire brooch.

Each piece of mourning jewelry is intricate and beyond interesting. Consider them a time capsule-meets gravestone-meets touchstone, all combined in a beautiful (albeit a bit chilling) manner that only the art of jewelry can really encompass.

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