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.

Dedication: 2 June 1816 AET 59 / Catherine Mary Walpole mourning ring

Dedication: 2 June 1816 AET 59 / Catherine Mary Walpole

Mourning bands adapted styles with changing fashion, however, there is a uniformity to their prominence c.1680-1900 that is as steadfast as a wedding band.

By its very definition as a band, the ring lends itself to mainstream typefaces in design, the dedication surrounding the band (personalised with a name or standardised with a memento) distils the loved one by their very name to the artistic motif.

More unusual is when the band adapts additional elements, such as this piece, with the hairwork memento placed on top. Its positioning seems clumsy in application, but its nature is essential to amplify the personal nature of the piece.

Also of note is the use of the white enamel (virginity, purity), one could assume for a lady of this age denotes her unmarried status.

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins
9 July 1810 mouring ring 	J Brougham

Dedication: 9 July 1810 / J Brougham

One of the more fascinating aspects of ring design and motifs in the early 19th century is the increased use of gems and stones. What had previously been relegated to fine jewels was becoming ubiquitous and taking over as a symbolic motif in their own right.

Pearl mourning ring

Pearls are the most popular and common to find in rings (many bracelets were strung with pearls, but surviving pieces are harder to find). Jet and turquoise are two of the other most popular materials and are important for their use in mourning custom and symbolism.

1815 mourning ring

Second and third stage jewels took very well to the enhanced use of colour, as reflective surfaces and colour were permissible, so hairwork jewels flanked with stones were not only an essential part of mourning, but a beautiful way to reflect and respect the loved one.

3rd stage mourning ring

Turquoise and Hairwork

These became prevalent from around 1810 and lasted well into c.1850, where larger, bolder styles and black enamel facilitated the changing fashion.

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

You’ve discovered a treasure: unique, beautiful, interesting, an asset to your collection and within your fiscal reach! Buy, buy, buy! Well, that is all very well and good isn’t it? But what of that dilemma when there is a lovely group of options on the market – all comparable, all lovely – of which you can only afford one? Hmmm? That’s where it gets a bit tricky.

Have you read this description: ‘…lustrous pearls surrounding a glazed locket compartment containing woven hair…’. I imagine that you have if are interested in mourning rings. It is a description of the classic Georgian pearl mourning ring, you know the ones, rectangular or possibly square thick glass under which there is woven hair of the deceased surrounded by pearls of varying quality, set in gold, ribbed band, split shoulders, and so on. I knew I wanted one. I felt it was important to have an example of this type of work. However, they were so popular at the time (early 19th C) that many have survived and there are a number of them available on the market. So which one should I get?

Classic Georgian Mourning Ring

I decided on this one and it was really a process of which one ticked the most boxes for my criteria. There you have it – know your criteria. What is it that you really value in the piece, in your collection, and why?

I respond much more strongly to pieces that have inscriptions. It is possibly my strongest criterion (after sheer beauty of course!).  This piece has two dedications making it even more delectable to me. I am also attracted to pieces that are dedicated to the young and/or unmarried. This ring is dedicated to a Miss Tylor 1797 and Miss Jane Tylor 1804. The condition of the ring is very good, most particularly the pearls are very white and lustrous and appear to be untouched. The ring is sound, solid and weighty. The split shoulders and ribbed band is a typical Regency era design. The mille-grain detailing on the bezel represents fine craftsmanship. The woven hair is blonde (rarer), the glazing thick and clean.

Detail of the split shoulders

Do you hear my felt-tip ticking the boxes?

Accurate dating is also a detail that appeals to me in a piece of jewellery because I enjoy researching the history of its time and, if I am very lucky, the subject or owner. This ring comes in its original box. Rundell & Bridge were very popular fine jewelers in the Regency period. Interestingly, Rundell & Bridge were appointed official Royal Jewellers in 1797, the same year Miss Tylor passed away. In the ring box there is printed on the interior silk a royal crown atop the jeweller’s logo. One can be confident therefore that this ring was made in 1797 or later. Possibly due to the placement of the inscriptions we can further assume that it was purchased in 1805 or shortly after, to fit both inscriptions so comfortably. I have a number of clues here so there is opportunity for me in the future to more thoroughly research the Miss Tylors.

The inside of the box lid also provides me with the jeweller's address

Decision making 101? Know thyself…okay, that might prove too difficult, but at least know your collection criteria!

P.S. I am happy with my choice.

– Marielle Soni

After travelling the earth for several weeks, I’m back and ready to look exploring new areas of jewellery! But before all that, I’ll pop a series of images on the blog of what I’ve taken back with me. All in all, everything came together very well – it was very interesting to see the different perceptions of mourning jewellery around the world. In some cultures, it’s the jewellery found on the peripherals of good taste or desirability, in others, it’s coveted and respected with the reverence it deserves.

And before I forget, a quick thank you to everyone whom I met overseas that visit the site! Your enthusiasm and passion for the subject is what keeps this collecting/educational mania alive.

Without further ado, here’s a blue enamel mourning ring from 1803 encrusted with some rather nice diamonds.

Diamond Urn Mourning Ring Blue Enamel 1803 / Bought in LondonDiamond Urn Mourning Ring Blue Enamel 1803 / Bought in London

With neoclassical pieces, there is continuity to them and not just a broad period where different styles were mixed. Notice the increasing reliance on enamel work and its symbolism (blue: considered royalty / white: purity and innocence) as well as the placement of stones and the reliance of pearls. Shapes changed and evolved from the larger navette oval to become smaller and slowly more oval.

Hairwork became more popular than painting on ivory and when symbolism was used, it became part of the gold-work or enamel-work. Using the initial of the loved one was a proud way to show affection to a loved one, rather than alluding to a loved one in symbolism.

Notice the similarities between this piece and the other initial pieces of the late 18th century – their colour and materials. The use of pearls became more prominent and shanks and bands conformed to the shape of the finger.

This piece is quite heavy with its gold-work and very detailed around the shank.

Ring, Jan 4 1796

Ring, Jan 4 1796

This scroll-work is on an exceptional quality and the oval face itself is another interesting point. The curve to the face bows in at the middle, with the glass memento being highly domed, rather than flat faced.

Country: England
Year: Jan 4 1796
Dedication: S King, Jan 4 1796

1820 Brotherly Love Ring / Purple and White Enamel

1820 Brotherly Love Ring / Purple and White EnamelDedications in memorial and sentimental jewellery usually begin with the love for a husband or wife, then the parents, then children, this isn’t a set rule, but simply based on the amount of jewellery out there with these dedications. Often, however, the parent has dedicated a budget for the mourning jewellery in their wills, so they were set to be made. For the spouse, if there wasn’t a budget, then the loved one was expected to enter the set stages of mourning and display their love for their significant other. Much the same goes for children, so these pieces are to be expected.

1820 Brotherly Love Ring / Purple and White EnamelThen there is this piece, which shows the love between brothers. There is the connotation of the religious inclination towards fraternal love, which may be understood form this piece, but the method of its construction and dedication speak from a more personal nature.

1820 Brotherly Love Ring / Purple and White EnamelHere, we have blue enamel, which was often reserved for royalty and also used in the half-mourning stage with a band of white enamel surrounding it. 1820 Brotherly Love Ring / Purple and White Enamel

From this, there is the element of purity and innocence in the white and a grand statement of profound love in the blue. 1820 Brotherly Love Ring / Purple and White Enamel

To find a piece with such colouring is remarkably rare, especially for it to be in such fine condition.

As such, there’s no directly heavy mourning symbolism with this piece, with simply the floral and stud motifs surrounding, so combined with the coloured enamel, the piece is implied, yet not heavy with the burden of mourning or obstructing fashion.

1820 Brotherly Love Ring / Purple and White EnamelHallmark: Samuel Godehere of London
Dedication: Let Brotherly Love Continue
Courtesy: Sarah Nehama

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

I’ve written a little bit about the male in mourning pieces and how they often skew to the more personal and unique of sentiments. Today’s look at this wonderful ring from Laura Masselos is no exception, as the dedication for the piece is quite young and the depiction of the father as the prominent mourner once again transcends the piece to the personal, much like this ‘Sacred to the Best of Friends’ miniature.

Male Mourning Ring

Let’s look at the style first. One thing to note is that there were two clear popular distinctions for miniatures in Neoclassical jewellery, the first are the sepia toned paintings and the second are the full colour depictions. Both are related, but there tends to be a higher influx of direct sepia painted pieces during the 1760s-1780s with a higher propensity of full coloured pieces in the 1790s. These methods in mourning and sentimental jewels relate for England, France and America, with a higher level of concentration for the coloured styles in France and the upper Continent. Also, the high-relief style of the layered ivory mixed with the three-dimensional hairwork and gold/gem to enhance the depiction and make it lift from the base of the scene. Giving the piece dimension was not an uncommon technique in full-sized miniatures and it was used quite readily in rings, brooches, bracelet clasps and any other form of Neoclassical jewel that could house this depiction under domed glass. One thing to note about that is the quality of the miniature, no matter what the size, never loses its fine detail and quality, it is much harder to find a naive piece in this style as the cost to design and construct them was quite high. To this end, note the (now damaged) attention to detail in the gold/pearl flourishes to the urn and plinth, as well as the written initials themselves. All very fine detail and not at the lesser end of the scale for price.

Male Mourning Ring

note similar shoulders

With this piece, there is a balance of the sepia tone to the gentleman and willow in the depiction, while the rest of the piece is quite focused in the colour, drawing the eyes to the urn and plinth. Complimenting these colours are the white and blue enamels used to surrounded the navette setting. What we can make of this is that the blue denotes the subject of the piece to be considered royalty, the white is innocence and purity, while the balance of tones inside of the brown (earth), tints of muted red (blood) and the reduction of primary colour equating to mortality and the passing into death.

Male Mouring Ring

As I’ve written about on my Symbolism Sunday regarding the ‘male’ in mourning depictions, this one exemplifies the style, particularly with the very personal rendering of the male himself. One could adequately suggest that the gentleman reaching out to the urn would be the father figure to the four year old child, however as likely as this is, it is still supposition. The gentleman is wearing white with what appears to be a dark coat, white waistcoat and breeches which correlates to mourning fashion in men during the late 18th century matching the cut of daily clothes, as well as white being worn for the mourning of a child. In all, this is a very personal sentiment and the gentleman was clearly in a good level of society for the mid 1790s to be able to depict himself in such a fashion on a piece. He is not fulfilling a neoclassical ideal and the grief of the piece shows through so prominently because of it. Note other male mourning depictions and the differences in posture and how they interact with their surroundings; all are quite varied and once again, relate to the personal nature of the piece.

In future articles, I’ll delve into some more unusual methods of construction and design for Neoclassical depictions, involving techniques on painting and also weaving hair into silk! Should be a lot of fun, but for the time being, enjoy this piece for the lovely item that it is.

Dedication: Nat. 4th My 1785 Obt. 12th July 1789 / BA
Courtesy: Laura Masselos

The late 19th century created a period of mourning fashion that was reaching a peak and hard decline. Over the period from 1860s-80s, the industry was fuelled by the high mortality rates from the Civil War in the US and in the UK, there was Queen Victoria’s perpetual mourning for Albert post 1861, which is a hard paradigm shift from a populace who once looked to constantly changing royal fashion for popular adoption.

Late 19th Century Ring

Pieces like this were quite typical from the 1880s on, particularly so in the 1890s and virtually disappearing by the start of the 20th century.

Hair bands, with the central groove, had the hair glued woven and glued into the ring, making them more wearable than what may seem.

Finding pieces like this today is quite easy, however it isn’t uncommon to find many altered and re-purposed variations. Pieces are often taken apart over time, with the hair removed and enamel or other materials filling in the groove. This has the eternity motif in the buckle and the pearl for a tear, creating quite a loving sentiment, but the hair has since been removed and replaced with black enamel.

Though many of these may have been changed over time, they are still beautiful as well as the top areas on the bands, where a sentimental motif may be placed.

With neoclassical pieces, there is continuity to them and not just a broad period where different styles were mixed. Notice the increasing reliance on enamel work and its symbolism (blue: considered royalty / white: purity and innocence) as well as the placement of stones and the reliance of pearls. Shapes changed and evolved from the larger navette oval to become smaller and slowly more oval.

Hairwork became more popular than painting on ivory and when symbolism was used, it became part of the gold-work or enamel-work. Using the initial of the loved one was a proud way to show affection to a loved one, rather than alluding to a loved one in symbolism.

Notice the similarities between this piece and the other initial pieces of the late 18th century – their colour and materials. The use of pearls became more prominent and shanks and bands conformed to the shape of the finger.

This piece is quite heavy with its gold-work and very detailed around the shank.

Ring, Jan 4 1796

Ring, Jan 4 1796

This scroll-work is on an exceptional quality and the oval face itself is another interesting point. The curve to the face bows in at the middle, with the glass memento being highly domed, rather than flat faced.

Country: England
Year: Jan 4 1796
Dedication: S King, Jan 4 1796

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Sir William Ellis (1609-1680) Mourning RingThis ring is dated 80 (1680), and it is a memorial ring for Sir William Ellis (1609-1680) who was a prominent lawyer under Oliver Cromwell.

In 1654 he was appointed solicitor-general. As solicitor-general, he took part in the prosecution of Gerhard, Vowell, and Somerset Fox on the charge of corresponding with Charles Stuart and conspiring to assassinate the Protector (Cromwell).

Sir William Ellis (1609-1680) Mourning Ring BackThe style of the design in this piece matches the usual memento mori style of being a band decorated with the memento mori motifs in enamel around the outside. The Band was popular at this time, complementing the popular crystals of the time. Often, a blend of the two were created and will be shown in later posts.

Country: England
Year: 1680
Dedication: “Sr W E ob 2nd of Dec 80. ‘W’ hallmark

Modern mourning rings aren’t uncommon, as a matter of fact, from any big event that has shaken western society, there’s a good chance that some memorial item has been created.

That’s why it’s not very strange that this particular ring has been made, you can find them on eBay.

So, if you’re feeling bad and your bank account isn’t looking too dangerous, then don’t feel like a smooth criminal and buy one now*

Available now in tungsten carbide.

* There’s no excuse for those horrible puns… I’m sorry…

Well, I get the question a lot of why do I do what I do and this ring pretty much exemplifies that. Being auctioned at Bonhams during The Marine Sale on the 24th of March 2010, I promise that I will do anything for anyone who buys this for me.

Here is their description:

Lot No: 44
A George lll Gold and enamel mourning ring, Admiral Lord Nelson
Rectangular head in black enamel with white border, bearing a Viscount’s coronet above the initial “N” and a Ducal crown above the initial “B” over the word “Trafalgar”. The gold tapered hoop shank engraved on the outside “Palmem Qui Meruit Ferat” (Let him bear the palm of victory who has won it) and on the inside “Lost to his Country 21 Oct 1805 Aged 47”.

Estimate: £12,000 – 15,000

Via Bonhams and thanks to Sarah

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