The history of mourning jewelry is fascinating.
From the very detailed and strict mourning dress code under Queen Victoria; to the meanings of colors and symbols; to the full blown mourning jewelry industry that was created; to the eventual fad with death photography and paintings that were used in the pieces. The history of this art form is rich and varied.
Here is a brief overview of how mourning jewelry became so popular and how you can get your hands on your very own magical mourning piece.
A Brief History of Mourning Jewelry
People have worn mourning jewelry for hundreds of years, dating back to the Middle Ages. Up until the Victorian era, the jewelry served as a tangible reminder of one’s own mortality and morality.
These baubles usually included macabre images such as skulls, coffins, and grave-digging tools that were meant to remind the wearer to live a moral life. This category of jewelry is called “memento mori” or “remember you will die”.
Mourning jewelry became more popular during Queen Victoria’s reign (1837-1901).
In the Victorian era, mourning jewelry became less a reminder of one’s own death and more a commemoration of a loved one and a way to keep them close to your heart.
After Prince Albert’s death in 1861, Queen Victoria fell into a deep depression. She spent the rest of her reign wearing black crepe dresses and a variety of mourning jewelry in his honor. Mourning jewelry became fashionable as the aristocrats and ultimately the middle class began to emulate her fashions.
During this time photography wasn’t widely available so a sentimental piece of jewelry was a way to commemorate those who had passed.
Instead of the memento mori images of the Middle Ages, this new mourning jewelry included more sentimental imagery such as angles, clouds, and weeping willows. Under Victoria, mourning jewelry became more about remembering the loved one and keeping them near our heart.
Jewelry that included locks of hair became especially popular as it was more affordable for the middle class. In fact, hair jewelry became one of the first industries that women were able to work in. In addition to adding intricate hair work to jewelry, they also created pieces completely out of hair such as chains made from braided hair.
Mourning jewelry became so popular that pieces commemorating the living ultimately became en vogue, and jewels + brooches were given as gifts as a sign of affection and to celebrate anniversaries.
Black Cat Cottage Mourning Jewelry
I started creating my own version of mourning jewelry, Grief Amulets and Grief Beads, which combines the traditional history of these charms with Magick.
When my beloved familiar, Delilah, passed away I created a Grief Amulet in her memory using her fur, ashes, and crystals (you can read more about that here). I found that being able to keep a piece of her near my heart helped my grieving process tremendously. I received so many requests for amulets from friends and family that I decided to make this an official service.
Similarly, Black Cat Cottage Mourning Beads provide a connection to spirit while also giving you something physical to hold or wear to ease the tenderness of the physical loss. These strands are hand strung on a silk cord with crystals especially chosen to assist with different stages of grief.