Dedication: Jan 14, 1801 / M. Harris (age 28)

Following on from our previous look at the wonderful open-shanks of the early 19th century, we have this ring, with its chalcedony interior and pearl surround.

As mentioned in the previous article, the style of the shank disappeared within a period of twenty years and the bezels became rectangular, but the general style and construction remained the same. Compare that with the ring below:


And you can note the similarities. While this ring is more elaborate in its continuation of pearls along the shoulders, the general conceit of the ring is the same. Pearls, central area for hairwork or gem and dedication underneath.

This style remained popular until the mid-19th century and was used until the end of the 19th century in style, due to its ability to adapt and its sentimental simplicity. There was no need to change a style that was geared towards the personal sentiment of love, as the hairwork was placed in the centre and worn proudly outwards.

Do note that the use of other materials than hair in the dedication area of these pieces can often be later amendments. These rings are highly marketable when there is no clear indication of being for mourning or sentimentality (modern sellers often equate hair with death), so the hair and glass are easy to replace with a stone and when the surrounding pearls/turquoise/jet are still there, they are quite beautiful and command a good price.

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

Here is an incredibly beautiful little brooch and not only exemplifies the style of the turn of the 19th century, but also is a wonderfully personal sentiment of mourning.

Firstly, let’s look at the shape. This piece is square, but also has a contour to its surface, sloping downwards from east to west. It’s remarkable that the bevelled glass follows this line so well, as this curve is quite difficult to fit. Obviously, the setting helps this, but it’s still quite intricate in its simplicity.

Take into account that this piece was made in 1805, a time when only five years previous, the Neoclassical style was in full bloom and a scene with the mourning woman next to a tomb, surrounded by the weeping widow was commonplace. This piece shows that very strong transition to present the hair as the memento. The use of enamel and its reliance as the artistic theme is quite bold, with this clean, straight edge and geometric shape becoming one of the true styles of the early 19th century (especially during the Regency). Use of stones was becoming more popular and simple shapes, such as ovals and rectangles, look for more on this in a future post.

But what are the two most wonderful things about it? Firstly, the impossibly personal sentiment on the front. ‘His hair / wove here / his memory / in my soul’ – what a beautiful statement of love? And a very genuine one, as this was not a common memorial dedication, it’s not generic, it’s speaking directly from the person who commissioned it. To go with this, the white enamel is the second most wonderful thing about it. The poor lad who died was aged only 19 (in an era of high mortality, this isn’t terribly young), but the white enamel speaks of his being unmarried/purity/virginity.

White enamel on a piece usually commands a greater premium, these pieces are harder to come by and the messages are often more unique to the wearer. It’s not a general rule, but if you have white enamel, you can often suggest that the piece is of a touch higher quality than the mass produced black enamel pieces of its contemporary time. Certainly not a rule to abide by as gospel, I’ve seen many reasonable, but not great, white enamelled pieces, but for a person who is more in tune with the sentiment over the construction, they do speak volumes.

Courtesy: Sarah Nehama
Country: USA
Year: 1806

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