Spotlight On: Ship Mourning Ring

April 15, 2010

There are several layers of sentimentality in this ring and many stories that can be told simply by glancing at it. Let’s step back and look at this piece through fresh eyes and try to go through each piece of its sentimentality to try and gauge its age and the meanings behind it.

No doubt we can never be 100% positive on discerning the true history of a piece and we must be careful not to make too many broad assumptions about it, nor should we apply our modern thinking towards it. So, much of what we can gather is gleaned from looking at other pieces and also from good, old-fashioned research.

Pearls (surrounding and seed)
Let’s note the use of the two kinds of pearls. Pearls surrounding set into the bezel was incredibly popular from 1790, the change from the neoclassical period’s use of symbolism with very basic settings to more interest in gems and the settings themselves beings at this point. There’s much greater movement between the pieces that were higher and lower in terms of wealth, as materials and income vacillated at a higher rate, with greater access to foreign materials (transit was more possible than ever before) and social fluidity was on the rise.

Sepia Ship
The ship sailing away from the viewer shows the passage of the soul into the afterlife. Note the delicate work to the sepia here, even the waves show a very nice shading to them denoting that the piece wasn’t cheaply made or sold en masse by a miniaturist. Often hair was crushed into the sepia paint and this piece shows the rich earth-tones of the sepia and also fine cross-hatching to the art, still crisp and do note the fine detail in the sky and waves. One can almost feel the undulation of the boat and it gently sails away.

Buckle motif
Seed pearls, often meaning tears, are also set into the interior buckle motif (never ending love), separating the hair from the sepia.

Interior hair
Having the hair outside the buckle is a style used mostly by larger miniatures and not very common in rings. Obviously, having hair inside as a memento was quite typical, but this is worked into the art itself. Quite delicate and very interesting.

Let’s start with the most obvious issue the ring has and that is the shank. There is obvious resizing to it, with a new piece of gold placed over the seam where it was extended. Obviously, this was done previous to the second dedication of the 1st of December 1841 as the dedication is written over the top. What does this lead us to conclude? The ring was clearly re-purposed and had a second life as a mourning ring (re-using mourning jewels is still common today), but this shows that in the space of 50 years, the nostalgia for the older styles was still prevalent.

There is a suggestion that the ring was previously unsigned and that it had been taken and resized, then signed over the top of the old repair and also on the back. Meaning that this ring could quite possibly be linked in both dedications.

We can’t look back in history and think that each style that was contemporary for its time was all-prevailing, as is the case today, people did look back on older styles and appreciated them for their style and symbolism. Clearly, the ring is of a high quality and the motifs are considered old for even 1841, but still resonate with a timeless beauty.

Could it have been within the same family? There is the possibility of this being a keepsake, but without a proper dedication of similar name or a genealogy to follow this up, there’s no way to be completely sure.

Back to the shank again and note the style of this ring to the right:

Dating this ring can be done with a reasonably accurate figure just from the shank alone. The style of this following ring is the evolution of the ship’s style. Note the floral (almost fleur de lis) style to the ship ring’s gold-work and the connection to the band with the indent / gold-work / indent, then look at the other ring from 1796.

Ring, Jan 4 1796

Ring, Jan 4 1796

The 1796 ring looks thinner and less has intricate detail to the shank, but adds a flower in the indent / gold-work / indent style. While not a new invention for its time, this style of the pronged connection of the shank to the bezel is quite common in the latter 18th century and the ship ring, with its excellent quality, shows the proto-style for this.

One of the more fascinating and wonderful things about this ring is the dedication itself. A crown, W, and A + T adorn the back and raise quite a few questions. Also, the inner shank inscription: A crown, EW obt Dec 1st 1841 aet 83, tells another story completely. Follow my earlier writing about the shank itself for thoughts about that, but the owner has looked into this herself. As a learning jewellery historian, her approach shows good beginnings of research.

The owner of the piece has done some wonderful hunting for the mystery behind it, so below are her thoughts:

“Here’s what I know- I bought it from a woman in the UK who had kept it in a drawer for the last 40 years. It had belonged to her first husband who died young in a car crash and was an only child- his parents both were gone too, so this lady had no one to ask about it…. her husband’s last name – Trubshaw…

I did look into the coronet engraved on the underside; I learned that different ones signify different ranks by the number of “strawberry leaves” and “pearls”, they have. This one on the ring belongs to an Earl. So, presumably, this would be the Earl of W_____. Well, I looked up all the possible Earls with last names beginning with W for that time, and didn’t come up with an exact match. However, I came pretty close: John Fane, the 10th Earl of Westmorland. I say close for several reasons: the date he died according to Wiki is 15 December 1841. He was 82 according to Wiki. On the inside of the shank, what is engraved are the initials E W (Earl of Westmorland?) and the date of death as Dec. 1 1841 age 83.

Now, if you look at the inside of the shank, you’ll see that there has been a piece of metal soldered over part of the original shank. Why? Well, it could be that a mistake was made in the original engraving, and this piece was put in so the correct info could be engraved on top of it. And the date on the ring is only off by one digit- a 5.

Also, I found out that this Earl, John Fane, was made a Knight of the Garter in 1793. And there on the front of the ring is the garter, in hair and pearls, surrounding the ship.

What the ship has to do with John Fane, I couldn’t figure out, although certainly it could be symbolic for the soul’s journey to the afterlife. And the initials A + T on the underside, under the W, I also have no idea what they mean or who they might refer to.

I’m not saying this ring is definitely to commemorate the Earl of Westmorland, but there certainly are some indicators on the ring that make it a possibility. I’ll have to do further research into it when I have the time. I’m not really sure where to go for info on English royalty, other than what I’ve found on the Web”

For a collector, I believe the research is quite thorough, but veers away from the sizing to the back and the common appropriation of mourning jewels. The most difficult task is the crown with the ‘W’ and ‘A + T’. The first thought would be to suggest that it was royalty, the second would be a hallmark/maker’s mark (looks quite like a mark from Sheffield 1788-89) and the ‘A + T’ could suggest it were for a couple. The comments are open for suggestions!

Courtesy: Sarah Nehama
Country: England
Year: 1785-1790 (band inscription dated 1841)
Under bezel: A crown, W, and A + T
Inner shank inscription: A crown, EW obt Dec 1st 1841 aet 83

2 Responses to “Spotlight On: Ship Mourning Ring”

  1. Sarah Says:


    Thank-you so much for all your insights into this ring, which has been quite a mystery to me. I love your analysis of the ship itself and sensitivity to the quality of the sepia work. And I especially appreciate your thoughts on the re-appropriation of the ring at a later date and the nostalgia for older forms (and for good quality work).

    The comparison of the part where the band meets the bezel is fantastic, and it’s amazing how closely the 2 rings resemble one another in this respect. The thing that always nagged at my mind in all my analysis was always that I thought this ring to predate the 1841 inscription by 50 years or so, and you show that here.

    Thanks again! It IS a lovely ring!


  2. […] article that Hayden wrote about a mourning ring of mine, a ring I call the Ship Ring, please see the post from April 15, 2010. Here you will find the background for this post, in which thanks to a friend’s research, the […]

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