Pearls and hairwork are often two of the most common materials used in stringing a bracelet  from the neoclassical era, much of the time these materials have been replaced since their creation, however, it is quite common to find the bracelet clasp on its own, such as this piece and the one posted recently.

Let’s reflect upon the symbolism for a moment. On direct appearance, we have the angel, the woman, the urn, plinth, cypress and the willow. All of these symbols are the ideal for their time and are the fundamental basis for mourning art, regardless of the quality. In this particular piece, it’s essential to first note the quality of the face to the woman and the angel. There is an inherent simplicity and generic nature to the features, with the simple line/dot work comprising the art. Much of the quality is within the shading of the sepia, with its rich earth-tones. Here, the fall and creases of her dress, as well as the willow framing the piece make up much of the detail.

One could assume that this piece began its life as a pre-produced miniature that was appropriated and customised by the wearer; the ‘To Bliss’ and ‘Affection Weeps / Heaven Rejoices’ sentiment are in different tones than the sepia itself, as well as the awkward contouring of the ‘To Bliss’ sentiment upon the scroll held by the angel. Compare this with this ‘Sacred to the Best of Friends’ piece and you’ll note the wide variation in detail. Certainly, the other piece benefits from being full colour, but fine sepia work with personalised detail was achievable and common.

What does denote high quality with this piece is the frame of pearls; an exotic and popular material for jewellery in the late 19th century (read more about that here) and a material that isn’t necessary to frame such a magnificent piece, but only adds to its aesthetic value.

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins
Dedication: Ann Read died 8th of March 1789 Aged 76

Mourning Bracelet Clasp

Bracelet clasps often showcase some of the most presentable and intricate sentimental art available from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This is related to their use in fashion and how they were presented outwardly, as well as their grand size. While rings tended to have different variations in their artistic depictions, from the ready-made and easily customised neoclassical ideal (which tend to be more naive), bracelet clasps generally hold a higher level of detail. As we’ll see in the coming weeks, I’ll show some interpretations of the bracelet clasp and how they were worn.

The clasp is special because of its inscription; “Angels Weep When Children Mourn”. This is not just exceptional artwork for its form, but also sentimental in its child dedication. Note the sepia art and how crisp it is. A piece like this is rare to be found in a bracelet clasp and even more so in its condition.

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins
Year: c. 1780-90
Dedication: Angels Weep When Children Mourn

Related Articles
Spotlight On: John Wood Dodge Miniature
One Family in a 19th Century Hairwork Bracelet
When Mourning Tokens Are Personal: Mourning Bracelet
Spotlight On: Hairwork Necklace and Locket

Hairwork bracelets are popular forms of sentimental and mourning jewellery, being always fashionable and relatively cheap to produce.

As much as the manufacture of the clasp or gold-work in a bracelet, the hair itself is the focal point of the construction.

As a memento, entire families could have different hair woven into the band, or a loved one could offer their own in a more intimate manner.

Other than the hair itself, the clasp is important to judge the latter 19th century pieces for their age and quality. In future posts, I’ll discuss more about the 18th century Neoclassical pieces, which differ greatly with these pieces (using miniature portraits, pearls and other materials). In this example from 1858, there are seven initials from the family members and with the tableworked hair in three colours constructing the band. A simple weave of hair is also displayed inside the glass compartment and on the reverse, the initials of each individual are represented.

Further Reading

> Bracelet With Miniature

Civil War Bracelet

Bracelets, like any other form of jewellery, can be highly personalised, be it with hairwork or gold.

This piece comes with the story of being commissioned by a woman outside of Baltimore, MD to memorialise each of her seven relatives lost during the civil war. Also, the acorn motif (for power, authority or victory – often used for military tombs, but still a quite common symbol for the time), is quite lovely.

The seven panels have initials for each person lost, with the EH on the clasp being her own initials. While fitting in with the style of the time, this piece would have had its origins in a jeweller’s catalogue with the option for tailoring it to the patron.

This level of personalising in a piece is very rare and quite sought after, as they are usually one of a kind. Enamel work in this time was quite prolific and the style of this piece with the late Victorian floral work make it a prime example of mainstream jewellery, as well as memorial jewellery.

Found as a charm on fob chains and bracelets, the acorn is often seen an ancillary motif in jewellery, balancing other symbols or complimenting a mourning sentiment, but more rarely being the prominent, singular motif used for a piece.

Often seen on military tombs, the acorn can stand for power, authority or victory, however it is also a statement of longevity, strong new growth and new life. This is something which is linked with its association with the oak and its nature of power. From the acorn, a mighty oak grows and its the germination of this idea which provides the strength in the concept of life and the acknowledgement of strength in life. One cannot denote the use of the acorn as a symbol, its ubiquitous nature in jewellery symbolism (you’ll notice it in Rococo flourished borders, cemetery decoration, furniture, architecture, etc) make it one of the symbols which relates directly to the person and conceptually to the global concept of sentimentality.

Note the medieval/early Renaissance style to the construction of this bracelet. This is directly influenced by the Gothic Revival period that helped provide much of the context of the 19th century. Very rarely do pieces this late in the 19th century reflect the high quality and earnest nature of the period itself. For more references to this, look to medieval/early modern portraiture and the use of this style in necklaces in those particular portraits. This piece reflects the nature of the Gothic Revival in its complete essence; the bold lettering, the shield motif for each letter and its stark contrast which defines its bold statement of purpose and mortality.

For more on this read…

Gothic Revival in Culture and Jewellery: Part 1, c.1740-c.1850

Gothic Revival in Culture and Jewellery: Part 2, c.1850-c.1900

Gothic Revival in Culture and Jewellery: Part 3, Breaking Perceptions

Courtesy: Sarah Nehama

A Faded Beauty

Though considered by some to be an inferior imitation of Jet, Vulcanite is a wonderful and beautiful material, primarily due its ability to be moulded. But what one may consider to be a plus (as it can expand and have more intricate pattern details), it also makes Vulcanite fall into the category of mass production, hence the carved nature of Jet makes it more desirable. Also, many Vulcanite designs were copied directly from Jet, as to provide for the cheaper alternative, hence the opinion of it to be a lesser Jet.

For your viewing pleasure today is a charming little bracelet that expands at the wrist and has the floral, forget-me-not design moulded on top.

Unfortunately, Vulcanite has the tendency to lose its colour with age, when exposed to light, it tends to fade to brown, as this piece has.

Vulcanite was patented in 1846, as the patent specified a manner of mixing rubber and sulphur, then heating the mixture to one hundred and fifteen degrees Celsius. It produces a brown powder when scratched and has a faint odour of sulphur. Often, a Vulcanite piece in good condition can be hard to discern from actual Jet, but one of the signs to look for (next to burning it with a needle and checking for the smell – Jet smells of coal) is to look at the design and note if the piece is obviously moulded (such as the smooth, curved expanding band on this piece) or if there are the obvious carving marks.

Not Lost But Gone Before Bracelet Clasp
Two of the greatest art styles to affect mourning and sentimental jewellery are neoclassicism and romanticism, looking back to classical ideals, a renewal of antique art and thinking, which permeated through to architecture and even literature.

This example holds the words ‘Not Lost But Gone Before’ and exemplifies this style, with its urn (harkening back to the Greek style and draped for mourning), though it is trapped in a contemporary setting of a church and cemetery. Painted with sepia and hair, this is a beautiful example of its form and time.

But what can we discern about the piece and its relation to the period? This piece would have been strung with pearls or hair, quite possibly the former and worn on the wrist quite prominently. Much of the neoclassical jewels are quite large in size, being the fashion of the late 18th century. Depictions of the neoclassical ideal in art were now greatly available to be worn and popular enough to generate their own industry. Much the same as the post Restoration period had spurred on a great industry of mourning culture to a mobile society, neoclassical art was popular enough to cover everything from formal/traditional art, architecture, fashion and of course, jewellery. It was only natural that jewellers and the mourning industry would adapt to this new popularity.

So much was the culture of mass production facilitating the need for these jewels, that travelling miniaturists would carry pre-painted ivories from town to town in order to sell and do customisations to a piece, in order to personalise it. This was also at the cusp of the burgeoning hairwork industry of the late 18th century. Sentimental jewels were now not only becoming part of the mainstream, but there was enough variation to facilitate different levels of class, as opposed to the industry in discovery 100 years previous.

How can this be seen in pieces today? This piece has a high level of personalisation in the depiction of the church and the urn. Firstly, it shows the obvious Christian symbolism mixed in with the neoclassical symbolism, which is not as common as one may think. Neoclassicism ushered in an enlightened period of person first, church second, hence while there is still religious symbolism, much of the time it’s alluded to, rather than overtly stated. Here, we have the church standing proudly in the distance, even the cypress pointing to the heavens gives the church validity in the nature of final judgement/heavenly passage. Then there is the urn and the plinth, with the obvious harkening back to the neoclassical and contemporary mainstream symbolism for death.

As well as all this, the setting is in a church-yard cemetery with the headstones strewn across the ground. Firstly, the scale is completely amiss with the piece, it’s been created with fine detail (note the shading to the urn, roof of the church and the grass), but obviously the headstones are small and the urn would dwarf the church and much of its surroundings. In a sense, yes, the focus of the piece is directly on the urn itself, which is where it needs to be, but even by looking at the fence next to the church, we see that the perspective is even further off.

So, as a collector, what are we to think? I would suggest this piece moves into higher quality. It’s not the fine art of what you would expect by a full colour French piece, but it shows fine detail, a unique depiction and an immediacy in the painting that is truly unique. One could make much more personal observations of the person who commissioned this just by the symbolism, however, you can read between the lines of this little discussion for my thoughts and anything direct would simply be supposition.

Eye MIniature Portrait Bracelet Georgian

I’ve written quite a bit about eye miniatures and their use in mourning and sentimental jewellery. These are one of those cultural phenomena that seem to radiate with a personal sentiment not seen previously not seen in mainstream jewellery; they’re less formal than the heavy neo-classical pieces found from 1760 to their contemporary period, they come in various qualities from highly detailed to naive and above all else, they’re incredibly personal. For those who need to know a bit more, here’s some of an article I’ve written previously:

“Eye portraits are rare and highly sought after, but there is variation between them. In the portrait shown, the setting conforms to the portrait of the eye, but later examples show a tear-drop setting with a black enamel surround. Some also show a down-turned eye. These are not always to be considered mourning pieces, but certainly sentimental. The tear-drop setting with the black enamel surround is certainly a mourning piece and quite an odd point in the evolution of the style.

Eye portraits are considered to have their genesis in the late 18th Century when the Prince of Wales (to become George IV ) wanted to exchange a token of love with the Catholic widow (of Edward Weld who died 3 months into the marriage) Maria Fitzherbert . The court denounced the romance as unacceptable, though a court miniaturist developed the idea of painting the eye and the surrounding facial region as a way of keeping anonymity. The pair were married on December 15, 1785, but this was considered invalid by the Royal Marriages Act because it had not been approved by George III, but Fitzherbert’s Catholic persuasion would have tainted any chance of approval. Maria’s eye portrait was worn by George under his lapel in a locket as a memento of her love. This was the catalyst that began the popularity of lover’s eyes. From its inception, the very nature of wearing the eye is a personal one and a statement of love by the wearer. Not having marks of identification, the wearer and the piece are intrinsically linked, rather than a jewellery item which can exist without the necessity of the wearer.

Use of materials developed along with the size of the settings of eye miniatures, as pieces were surrounded by precious stones and became larger due to altering fashion. A good reference for the evolving trend of the shape of early 19th century jewellery can be seen in the Rings section, where settings and the shape of the mementos changed quite dramatically from 1790-1830.”

There have been a number of eye portrait forgeries due to their desirability and low production. Collectors should be cautious when purchasing a piece to ensure its authenticity.

Eye MIniature Portrait Bracelet GeorgianAnd now with that, we can look at this piece. The first thing that must be discussed are the seed pearls forming the band of the bracelet. Mourning bracelets are often strung with either hair or pearls in their original state. Much of the time, only the clasps and hinges survive or have been restrung over the years. Judging by the colour, odd sizes and the predilection towards seed pearls during the first quarter 19th century, these look quite original on appearance. When discussing pieces like this, it’s best to not make absolute judgement based upon pictures, but make physical contact with the piece to be sure.

Art of Mourning Niello Brooch GeorgianThe setting of the eye itself is in the style common of c.1815-1830 (often the grooves would be filled with enamel, but not always), with the popular rectangular shape housing the eye itself highlighting its age in this bracket. Note the piece pictured for similarities.

As for the portrait itself, the eye is painted on ivory and moves to the upper levels of fine quality in the attention to detail and the brushwork. One of the aspects of the eye miniature is that they weren’t often painted to the neoclassical ideal, but come back to the nature of them being personally painted. Here, note the colour of the hair in the portrait (chestnut to red) and the fair colouring of the skin, detail has been taken into account to match the subject where possible.

Eye MIniature Portrait Bracelet GeorgianThen there is the dedication on the reverse. This dedication feels awkwardly drawn into the reverse and due to the eye not facing upwards (often denoting post-mortem), one must consider if it were a later inscription to the piece. However, any detail here is supposition, so one must be careful when making such a judgement.

Overall, the bracelet is highly rare and incredibly sought after. These items weren’t in high production and lasted only a short time as a cultural phenomenon, hence their high cost and desirability.

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins

18K solid case and clasp fittings elaborately engraved and enameled, housing portrait of (yet) unknown sitter of watercolor on ivory with a small surface crack to the ivory. This piece came from a Maryland estate, and believed to be painted by John Wood Dodge, American (1807-1893).

What a magnificent and complete bracelet, with its clasp and hairwork intact. Pieces like this are truly individual, nothing can match or compare to it, because its materials and subject permeate every level of its construction.

Note the enamel to the back of the clasp and how the use of enamel was becoming fashionable for larger items of jewellery, after being pushed aside for the lines and art of the neo-classical pieces.

I could look at this piece all day. It’s a true work of art, there’s no other way to describe it.

Well, one more picture and I’m going to enjoy the rest of the day.

Courtesy of Sarah Nehama.

As previously stated, depending on the weave, hairwork can stretch to the size of the wearer. This particular bracelet is a wonderful example of that, as the diameter of the piece would hardly accomodate a child’s hand.

Turquoise beads and late 19th century etching on top of a ribbon motif provide the flourishes to the this example.

Look back on the previous hairwork bracelets this week and see the contrast in styles and also the evolution of their forms in a relatively short period.

What assumptions can you make from looking at them all together?

Certain weaves in hair jewellery stretch to fit different sized areas (such as the neck or wrist).

This seemingly small bracelet will stretch with its box-shaped weave to fit larger wrists.

The clasp, though looking to be a locket, is fixed and decorated with Victorian neo-Rococo design.

Compare this to the earlier piece seen yesterday. Despite around fifteen years separating them, this piece shows the evolution from the simple, bold gold-work that was more prevalent in the mid 19th century to the Rococo revival period that was emulated in much of the florally embellished gold-work. One again, the clasp tells a story about the piece itself.

Hairwork bracelets are popular forms of sentimental and mourning jewellery, being always fashionable and relatively cheap to produce.

As much as the manufacture of the clasp or gold-work in a bracelet, the hair itself is the focal point of the construction.

As a memento, entire families could have different hair woven into the band, or a loved one could offer their own in a more intimate manner.

Other than the hair itself, the clasp is important to judge the latter 19th century pieces for their age and quality. In future posts, I’ll discuss more about the 18th century Neoclassical pieces, which differ greatly with these pieces (using miniature portraits, pearls and other materials). In this example from 1858, there are seven initials from the family members and with the tableworked hair in three colours constructing the band. A simple weave of hair is also displayed inside the glass compartment and on the reverse, the initials of each individual are represented.

Finding decent mourning jewellery in Australia is becoming quite difficult and when one does find a nice piece, it’s usually got a few more zero’s on the end than a knowledgeable collector would like to reconcile with.

That was one of the unfortunate truths to the Ballarat Antique Fair, while there were some lovely things, I don’t mind taking the leap for something that I would be in love with, but logic and common sense remind me that I can find the same thing on eBay for a fraction of the price (sorry, dealers).

However, this bracelet stood out as one of the finer pieces of the show. I was on the lookout for brooches and rings (as usual), but what I found was what I had mostly seen last year, but with some generous mark-ups. Hailing from a Tasmanian antique dealer (quite a nice chap), I did a lap of the fair (see the other Ballarat post for that adventure) and purchased this before leaving.

This bracelet is a single weave, table-worked, four level hair bracelet. The clasp is gold and the interior is palatte-worked hair on milk-glass with wheat sheaf motifs in gold surrounding the interior hair.

As for its age, 1850-60 would be in the ballpark for this sort of piece, though similar examples exist in catalogues through to 1870. It’s in reasonably good condition for its age, the hair is still rather supple, though the milk-glass has some movement to it. No, I won’t be wearing it, I’ll simply treat it with all the love of my others. It’s unsigned, as well, with no dedication to a loved one.

All in all, I don’t recall another piece at the fair to set me on fire quite like this one, so in the end, it was a successful day!

Ballarat Antique FairThe Ballarat Antique fair is now over and those lucky enough to attend were presented with some wonderful wares of sellers from across Australia. What are my memories of this event?

Well, let’s just say I have the bruises to last a lifetime. Read on for a breakdown of the event….

Read the rest of this entry »

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