Gothic mourning ring

Adapting bands to mainstream styles in mourning jewellery is essential to their continued existence. As we’ve discovered with the Catherine Mary Walpole band, which adapted the bold, clean styling of the Neoclassical period and adapted a hairwork memento on top, this ring veers to the other end of the mainstream scale. With the Gothic Revival period taking dominance c.1820, rings such as this would become common and highly produced.

Produced in such numbers that there are degrees of quality in these particular bands. As often with changing styles in jewels, the earlier styles show a high level of quality; their breaking new fashion and worn as such. Bands, being a simple and clear dedication of mourning, were produced in numbers for funerals and given to friends and family, hence as the custom became more of a necessity, base metal pieces were handed out with simplistic construction methods. Indeed, the nature of the band with ‘in memory of’ and a simple inscription avoided too much customisation in construction.

Broken gothic mourning band ring

In this above piece, the shoulders with the floral edging so common in the Gothic Revival period are slid over an inner tube of the ring. Much of this has broken apart over the years, causing heavy loss to the brittle enamel.

19th century memento mori ring

The skull in depiction is a good way of understanding whether or not a mourning jewel is all it claims to be. As a collector, one has to be careful that there is no room for error when buying a piece, this is often overlooked, as many pieces can interest just due to their beauty and not their fact.

With this particular piece, one must make two assumptions; the skull is rendered contemporary for its time, but not as part of its original construction or that it is a much later addition to deceive or promote financial gain.

This is a difficult spot for the collector. Upon first examination, the ring looks remarkably correct in its style. The skull is an obvious anachronism, for it to be part of mainstream fashion when the ring is estimated to be constructed would make it an anomaly. However, the rest of the ring, with its black enamel shoulders and 1st quarter 19th century rectangular hair memento are seemingly correct.

Hence it comes down to the style of the skull being the only things we can take from it. Skull design in mourning jewels can be identified easily enough through matching detail with mainstream art and contemporary pieces. In this case, the skull is simply rendered, which does conform with earlier skulls, but isn’t definitive.

Highly detailed skulls, that you may see on modern rings would automatically default this piece to be a poor addition, but if this is modern or not can’t be discounted.

Perhaps one should question the taste in adding a skull to the remnants of a loved one, when this is the last element of the person that is left, especially in a time when the memento mori motifs were out of fashion.

Regardless, it is the curiosity in jewellery that makes it fun to discover. Each tells a tale, each resonates with personal history.

Further Reading:
> Spotting Forgeries, Fakes and the History of Reproductions

James Chifley Mourning Ring 1802

The ubiquitous early 19th century mourning band was born from a confluence of styles. As seen in the previous Gothic Revival articles, there was a shift back to the ecclesiastical in mainstream art, reacting to the opulence of the neoclassical era with the more primitive Gothic movement and a move away from the personal as the subject of worship.

By the early 19th century, the neoclassical shape of the navette and oval (which previously had mostly housed painted miniatures in the memento area of the ring) had reduced itself to the essence of the shape. Simple, geometric lines reflect a grand and simple statement. In this piece, we have the example of the black enamel being broken by the two white enamel lines. Simple, bold and proud design that, in effect, puts the tombstone around the wearer’s finger.

This was an evolution of a style that had adapted throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. The band itself is a highly malleable and simple design that can adapt very quickly to new art styles that flow in mainstream fashion.

Examples of this can be seen as the contemporary popular style of mourning band adapted the Gothic Revival motifs quite heavily, yet this skews closer to the 1820s in its simplicity.

Country: England
Year: 14 June, 1802
Dedication: James Chafy (Esq) (Age 71)

A piece with perfect enamel work is a rare treat to find. Too often, jewellery dealers and quick to repair enamel and clean gold work to a point where it is obvious.

Black enamel mourning ring 19th century 1830s

Even more obvious are repairs to enamel, as anything short of stripping a piece and beginning again will not be perfect and due to the cold process of amending a piece, it will never be perfect. A piece is better if the enamel is in its original condition and untouched.

Black enamel mourning ring 19th century 1830s

It is rare to see a piece that is as close to perfect as the day it was made – a piece as timeless as the literal tombstone used to commemorate the person. This is just one of those pieces – stunning enamel work, a sentiment that is perfect and an overall construction that resonates a special keepsake for the person it was dedicated to.

Note the band is without wear, the remarkable urn on the front and underneath the urn is the hair, or as band would say, the ‘Dear Remains’. This piece works in unison with itself; even the acanthus and floral Rococo Revival influence in the over-arching Gothic Revival style of the gold work that was so common during the 1810s-30s is here in its perfection. Use this piece as the cornerstone of other pieces for its time and reference it while looking through others in Art of Mourning.

Courtesy: Sarah Nehama
Year: 1818
Dedication: (inner) Wm. Armstrong Ob. 31st March 1818 at 55 (outer): Sacred Will I Keep Thy Dear Remains

Further Reading:
> Gothic Revival in Culture and Jewellery: Part 1, c.1740-c.1850
> Gothic Revival in Culture and Jewellery: Part 2, c.1850-c.190
> Gothic Revival in Culture and Jewellery: Part 3, Breaking Perceptions
> Rose and Yellow Gold ‘Cigar Band’ Ring / 1810
> When Mourning Tokens Are Personal: Mourning Bracelet
> Discovering New Styles In An Important Ring from 1836
> Bold, Simple, Clean – Design on a Mid Victorian Brooch

Hon Alice Nugent in a 1730 Mourning Locket

When presented with a beautiful piece like this, one can’t help but emote. There are so many reasons why this pendant enters into the higher echelon of beauty that requires one to stop and consider it from every angle. Not only is it a beautiful time capsule for Alice herself, but it is also a perfect example of its culture and heritage. To take this into account, we have to look at its shape, its hairwork and its design motifs.

Hon Alice Nugent in a 1730 Mourning Locket

For starters, this piece was created in 1730, a period of relative stability in comparison to the previous century of British civil war and restoration, indeed, this period shows the culmination of the results of the restoration, with greater focus on the parliament and a society experiencing the early stages of cultural mobility. How is this relevant to the piece? This particular style carries over much of what came before, an interpretation of styles from the mid-17th century and is forging its links to the styles of pre-Neoclassicism of the mid-18th century, so it truly bares the height of its fashion for this time.

Hon Alice Nugent in a 1730 Mourning Locket

Let’s look at the ribbon motif. This was a popular design in mourning and sentimental jewels, with this period of the Baroque/Rococo transition influencing jewellery designs with style carried over from Europe. The ribbon and bow served its function for many purposes; it was a functional design motif, as can be seen with the inscription of the name/dedication on the ribbon, such as that of a banner, it is an elegant style that carries through the mainstream fashion into the jewel, it frames the piece nicely and the symbolism involved of eternity and proximity are closely related to it. Immediately, the sentiment towards the person it is dedicated to shines through.

Hon Alice Nugent in a 1730 Mourning Locket

The black enamel is another motif that was popularised and cemented into the mainstream of mourning jewellery, we can draw our conclusions that Alice was not young/unmarried from this (aged 80, as you can see). Stylistically, it’s appropriate and conveys the messaging on the ribbon.

Hon Alice Nugent in a 1730 Mourning Locket

Its shape, close to that of a heart, is another important factor. The heart is an eternal symbol of love and one commonly used in jewellery and art. Most typically, the “Georgian Heart” is referred to as its peak in sentimental jewellery design, but the motif obviously is one of the most famous and used symbols today. However, this style is a precursor to that of the Georgian Heart, with this symbol being used commonly very close to this piece’s construction:

And to show the ribbon in as a dedicated motif:

Also, the ribbon as a bow:

Internally, we have the hairwork, which I think is even more remarkable. The eternity twist of the hair is very common for this time, as it was a popular motif and worked well (symbolically) with the ribbon motif. It was an easy weave and when placed between the transparent halves of the glass or crystal, we have that transparency of affection towards the wearer shining through the hairwork. Truly, there is no closer the loved one could be placed towards the heart.

Below is a ring with very similar style and construction – note the transparency for the hair and the ribbon:

Chas Fraser / OB: 16 April 1746 / Born: May 23/ 1725 Mourning Ring


And another with the ribbon motif:


Many more examples of these can be found at Art of Mourning in the Pendants section or the Rings section!

Dedication: The Hon Alice Nugent Died / Aged 80 20 Decr 1730
Courtesy: Sarah Nehama (Alice piece) and Barbara Robbins

That magnificent collector Barbara Robbins is back with a lovely look at a new acquisition;

William 1702 Crystal Ring

“This is a wonderful, circa 1702 ring that I just bought and will stay in my collection. It was the hardest thing to photograph I have ever attempted. I guess that due to the heavily faceted crystal. I seriously took about 50 or 60 photos of this ring, and this is the best I could do. I’m including two of the front of the ring. One shows the scribe better, but it has a glare from the crystal.”

William 1702 Crystal Ring
“This wonderful ring commemorates the death of William III, who reigned from 1689 to 1702. He ruled with his wife, Mary, until her death, and their years together are often referred to those of “William and Mary.”

William 1702 Crystal Ring

The ring contains hair, and would that it would be William’s, but of course it could be that of a faithful supporter. The ring was most likely commissioned to commemorate William’s death in 1702, and on top of the hair, is a crown and William’s scribe.  The ring has the closed back, enameling on the shoulders and on the sides of the bezel. I had to have this one, because I have the slide with Mary’s hair.  Of course  I needed William to complete the picture.””

William 1702 Crystal Ring

There is black enamel, gold and hair….and then there is black enamel, gold and hair. This fine example is of the latter. A fine Victorian gold and enamel brooch with a plaited hair insert and black enamel decorated with floral and foliate motifs.  The reverse is inscribed with the names of Agnes and Sarah Robinson who died in 1845 and 1860 respectively.  The brooch measures 4cm (1.6 in) by 3cm (1.2 in).

An overall pleasing composition created with a simple palette

The gold floral motifs are of exquisitely fine detail. The  scrolled borders are of extraordinary craftsmanship. This is a wonderful example of the traditional Victorian mourning aesthetic at a level far and beyond. I particularly respond to the completeness of this brooch – the grey hair, beautifully woven with brown, corresponds most pleasingly with the composition of the foliate design and the overall shape of the ornate frame. The eye is drawn across  and around in what is a very satisfying piece.

Dedications inscribed on the reverse

To Agnes Robinson ob. 15. May 1845. AET. 63. Sarah Robinson obt. 2 February 1860 AEt 79 – possibly sisters – you and/or your family had very fine taste and honour you well.

Detail of the fine floral motifs and inner & outer scrolled borders

– Marielle Soni

Sleep in Jesus Locket / In Memory Of Black Enamel

Gold back and front memorial lockets with various designs were ubiquitous mourning jewellery items in Victorian England and the United States. Here we have a 9 carat gold mourning locket with intricate engraving on the back and front, bold black enamel Christian cross motif metamorphosing into stylised ivy and the familiar ‘In Memory Of’. These types of lockets could be purchased from jewellery stores with photos, hair and other personal dedications added later. The locket is of its time, reflecting the fashion of the day and steeped in Christian belief and symbolism, but let us open it up and see what more we can learn.

Sleep in Jesus Locket / In Memory Of Black Enamel

The original glass on both sides is intact. The Left side has reverse,  hand-painted text reading: ‘Hannah Taylor born June 23 1872 died July 30 1876’. The naive quality of the writing reveals to us that this was undertaken in the home as opposed to a professional jeweller / engraver. On the right side purple silk is visible; a square piece of paper has been sewn on to it. The paper reads ‘Sleep in Jesus’ and this appears to have been mass printed – possibly a church or local paper or perhaps businesses offered such paper dedications for home memorials.  Atop the paper, most beautifully sewn, are separated curls of delicate brown hair – that of the cherished 4-year-old Hannah.

Sleep in Jesus Locket / In Memory Of Black Enamel

This locket represents a meaningful glimpse into the world of the unknown Taylors. Why did they need to paint the dedication themselves – was it desire or necessity? This locket was purchased from the US, is that where it originated from? Were these people from a remote rural area who ordered in the locket, but with no services, or perhaps no further money, for a professional to create the dedication? Can you imagine the feelings of love and loss while touching & sewing the hair, all that remains on this earth of your beloved child?

One thing we can be sure of as there are so many clues – their Christian belief in life after death.

“For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.” – I Thessalonians 4:14.

Sleep – the ideal death, a Victorian obsession with death, to sleep and pass peacefully – to live in God. Sleep is a euphemism for death which we are all still very familiar with. The use of the text ‘Sleep in Jesus’ is most telling, one can assume the mother (logically the one who crafted the dedications?) is aware of I Thessalonians and she believes that her child will also go to God, sleeping in this life but alive in Heaven; hopefully gaining much needed comfort in this belief.

However, she may also be familiar with this phrase  through popular hymns, notably ‘I know of a sleep in Jesus’ name’ by M.B. Landstad (1802-1880) of Norway but published in official Evangelical Lutheran Hymnal books in the US. Also, ‘Asleep in Jesus! Blessed sleep!’ by Margaret Mackay of England, but printed in the Protestant Episcopal Church Hymnal of the US in 1871.

Now, let us re-introduce the ivy and the cross from the front of the locket. Ivy, in the Victorian era, symbolised fidelity and undying love, it was also associated with femininity. Traditionally (pre-Christianity), ivy symbolised rebirth and eternal life due to its evergreen properties. Here, we have the Christian cross, the most potent symbol of resurrection and eternal life, combined with ivy – a strong image of enduring love and spiritual life after death.  In addition, we have ‘Sleep in Jesus’; the message is clear.

A mother’s loss unfathomable to bear, but perhaps made easier by touching, keeping and cherishing the tiny locks of hair, which is all that remained with her worn atop her heart; and the belief that Hannah now sleeps peacefully in Jesus where once again they may meet.

“Asleep in Jesus! Far from thee
Thy kindred and their graves may be;
But there is still a blessed sleep,
From which none ever wakes to weep.’ – Mrs Mackay, from US Hymnal 1871.

R.I.P. Hannah Taylor and those who loved her!

        Marielle Soni, 19th July 2011

Broom locket symbolism jewellery

Let’s light the way this Sunday with one of the more unfortunate symbols in jewellery history, a symbol that would otherwise denote the pathway through the darkness, but here, shows the inherent darkness that we must face.

Yes, it’s Symbolism Sunday and it’s time to look at a motif through the eyes of a 19th century grieving family.

The torch is a symbol that represents several concepts, concepts which harken back to its literal interpretation, for when there is darkness, there is light to guide the way. One of these representations is hope. Hope, as a concept, provides an optimistic future that the birth of a child or the continuation of a family will bring. Without this continuity, the family would be lost to the darkness, without hope, tomorrow is lost. Hence, a torch as light, beacons the new day, the new era and a path that is brighter than what has come before.

Let’s now look at how that reflects upon the torch as enlightenment. Once the torch is lifted into the sky by its barer, there is an inherent reflection upon the torch as a beacon for intelligence, thought and progression into the future from the darkness that falls before it. Hence, it is the torch that shines the way for modernity (or liberté, égalité, fraternity, if you will). Thought, theory, truth, modernity and humanity come together in a design and a symbol of progression.

Let’s take that all in for a moment.

Broom locket symbolism jewellery

In today’s symbolism example, we have to apply these concepts back to the family as look at the design as an overarching motif.

We are presented with an upside down torch. Everything, the very essence, of the family that the upright torch represents is turned upside down and shut off, That bright light which would pave the way for the next generation is gone and lost, the continuation of hope is gone and so is the enlightenment that the family could progress with.

When combined with the Victorian views on mortality and the concept of the family (see the articles about the Gothic Revival period and its impact on 19th century culture here), we’re looking into a bold and very profound statement of mortality that has all the stoicism that the late 19th century generated in the family and the gravity of that symbol when placed over the heart in a locket.

This symbol is surrounded by the buckle, which if you’ve read my writing before, you know well enough what the means, but I will discuss it in another Symbolism Sunday, however, the upside-down torch is loss at its most basic.

Reflecting upon the symbol as that of lost hope, let’s look at how the Neoclassicists depicted this symbol a century before.

Faith jewellery sepia

Faith, hope and charity were (and still are) common symbols for their representation. Cross (faith), hope (anchor) and charity (heart) are still common motifs today (read more about them in my Symbolism Sunday about Faith, Hope and Charity). Their depictions on the symbols in Neoclassical art are often that of the weeping woman, surrounded by the willow and holding onto the (or surrounded by), the symbols which depict the grief. The grief becomes beauty and depicts a serenity that can be appreciated for its artistic merit, rather than its depth of meaning.

There are scenes of the woman clinging to the cross, even upon the anchor, which reflect an outpouring of grief, but the stoicism that the 19th century provides for the matter-of-fact Christian, high mortality, industrialised reality of the black-upon-gold symbolism is its own gravity, it is a statement that doesn’t overcomplicate the design, but enhances it beyond what the prior society would flow around the idea of the concept with humanitarian depictions.

Upside-down torch in jewellery

At this point in today’s lesson, remember that the upside-down torch is the life cut short, the loss of hope and enlightenment. Bereft of future.

Looking at today’s subject of a youth as the focus of the locket, it makes the symbol so much more poignant. The child which would, for the previous three hundred years, be characterised by white enamel becomes a statement for the family’s grief, be it masculine or feminine, the child is lost and the family suffers.

Furthermore to this, the flame as regeneration when held upright is lost. Flame burns, regenerates and feeds of the very air around it, lose this and you lose your familial regeneration.

Other interpretations of the torch are more romantic in basis or for their liturgic reasons, however, we’re looking at the upside-down torch and its representation in mourning jewellery.

Broom locket symbolism jewellery

Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

The Peacock




The Cypress

The Lantern

The Elephant

The Pelican

The Arrow and Quiver

The Knot

The Grape

The Daisy

The Oak

The Acanthus

Revisiting The Trumpet

The Harp


The Acorn

The Trumpet

The Male

The Woman

The Three Graces

Faith, Hope and Charity

The Clover

The Willow

The Column

The Hourglass

The Serpent

The Dove

The Dog

The Angel

The Marigold / Lily


April 11, 2010

QuestionIf black enamel means death, white enamel means purity and virginity and blue enamel means that the loved one was considered ‘royalty’, have you got other coloured enamels on jewellery and if so, what and what do you consider them to be? If anyone answers to this, feel free to post pics (there are a lot of other colours out there)!

George Washington was a unique individual. It’s redundant to speak about his importance to United States history and rather than telling of the of his personal diaries (which I’ve interacted with), I’d rather focus upon this most wonderful ring:
Read the rest of this entry »

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