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

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)

There are so many ways with which to understand a jewel and place it in its context. Let’s look again at this brooch and see what we can find…

I’ve often made mention that one of the most prolific periods for jewellery experimentation in design came about during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This isn’t to discredit earlier or more modern periods, but there are simply moments in history when socially, culturally, financially and politically, a particular movement flourishes. It is during this time that a confluence of factors caused the outcome of experimentation and styles in jewellery, or at least, a mainstream cultural identity, be it Prussian, British, American or Italian, emerged with styles that started are clearly recognisable. Much of this has to do with higher production levels, greater social access to wealth/cultural mobility and advanced transit and communications, which not only broke down established borders, but upheld cultural uniqueness within different geographic parameters. Such as Continental travel had opened up for a society that now could focus on recreation and through this simple means, culture started to transcend borders that were traditionally drawn politically and culturally.

Blue Pearl Brooch

Forgive the long winded preamble, but now we can look at this wonderful brooch and how its style fits directly into these paradigms. The first thing to note is the excellent use of the variety of pearls, which for this style, as you will see in further examples, simply shows two things has occurred;

  1. There was a greater access to pearls through higher trade routes to the East (China and Japan) for potential use as a material and
  2. Styles has started to embrace material over classical depictions, a shift away from the obvious Neoclassical ideal.

The brooch is set on blue, foil-backed glass, in the same style as contemporary miniature portraits, so the method still remains adapted and not wholly unique to this particular style of brooch. For this manner of construction, often the most common type was to set the pearls on ‘a base of mother-of-pearl, gesso or plaster laid onto a background of blue enamel or blue glass and set under a domed glass cover.’

As for the style itself, using pearls on blue glass or enamel to depict Neoclassical scenes and symbolism was quite popular throughout the Continent and England. Particularly, this style can be found in pieces ranging from c.1790-1820 from the northern region of France and what is today Germany. Allegorical scenes, often transcending the ecclesiastical undercurrent of many painted Neoclassical scenes, are quite prevalent, focusing directly on the personal love sentiment instead. This is due to regional style, contemporary culture and religious influence in the art directly.

This style of pearls on blue glass or enamel is used heavily in sentimental jewels and can be seen in these further examples from the British Museum:


“Oval gold brooch with seed-pearls, in the form of a winged cupid with a lamb, on a base of mother-of-pearl, gesso or plaster; laid onto a background of blue enamel or blue glass and set under a domed glass cover in a gold mount within a pearl border. Inscribed in French.”


“Marquise-shaped pendant with seed-pearls, in the form of sheep and lambs under a tree, on a base of mother-of-pearl, gesso or plaster laid onto a background of blue enamel or blue glass and set under a domed glass cover in a gold mount with blue and white enamel and a tooled gold border. Compartment on reverse with plaited hair under glass.”


“Gold finger-ring with seed-pearls, in the form of a spray of flowers, on a base of mother-of-pearl, gesso or plaster; laid onto a background of blue enamel or blue glass under a domed glass cover in a gold mounted oval-shaped bezel with a pearl border.”


“Marquise-shaped pendant with seed-pearls, in the form of two birds carrying a knotted ribbon, flowers and wheat-ears, on a base of mother-of-pearl, gesso or plaster, laid onto a background of blue enamel or blue glass and set under a domed glass cover in a silver mount with a gold backing, with a border of pastes set in silver and a tooled gold inner rim.”

Blue Pearl Brooch

Upon the back of this brooch, we have a magnificent inscription that is quite personal for a dedication:

‘This Brooch was occasionally
worn for more than 40 years by James Saunders Esq who died on the
24th September, 1831 in the 79th year of his Age’

To state that a jewel was worn be a gentleman is firstly unusual (rather than directly dedicated to) and then there is the statement of the brooch being ‘occasionally worn’. From here, we move into supposition about the wearer. Why did he wear it? Was this a dedication for someone else or a personal sentiment? Who received the brooch after his passing to inscribe this upon it? Some wonderful questions that may never be answered, but fascinating ones all the same.

I have a few examples of this style in my collection, so when I finally get them out and properly photographed, I’ll continue the look at the pearl/blue phenomenon!

Courtesy: Penny Rushby-Smith

Because we’re revisiting some fashion this week, let’s take another look at this spectacular miniature:

Let me begin today’s lesson by stating that to some degree, mourning jewels are fundamentally sentimental and quite personal. There is little to no doubt about that. Grief isn’t something that can be measured by price, it’s not an affectation and it’s not something that any layer of pomp can prove justification to.

18th Century Mourning MIniature with Contemporary WomanWhen it comes to jewels, no matter what the quality, they were worn for the ideal of grief, regardless of their quality and when you see a piece that not only defies the mainstream, or tradition, of popular at a certain period, you know you’re looking at something special. Does that make the piece any more sentimental than any other mass produced item from a catalogue? I think not.

This piece rises above the expectations of the time in which is was made, it produces a bold statement about the person who held/wore/commissioned it and it demands an immediacy of emotion that was rarely captured in miniature paintings, an immediacy and proximity to the subject that perhaps only photographs could manage to take.

Read the rest of this entry »

I know it’s not Symbolism Sunday, but this one is worthy of a very big article, so I’ll show it here and write more about it in the future. I saw it in London and was immediately transfixed. There are several reasons why people collect; for some, it’s the having, for others, it’s the accumulation and compulsion, others, education and continuity. For me, I fall into the latter and when I see something with such strange symbolism or odd construction.

This ring has some of the strangest Neoclassical symbolism and I open the door for interpretation! Take a look and comment below:

Neoclassical Symbol Ring Mourning

Neoclassical Symbol Ring Mourning

Anachronistic 1780 Memento Mori Neoclassical Ring

Continuing our look at memento mori in jewellery through the ages comes this stunning piece from the collection of Marielle Soni. This particular piece jumps ahead of our previous example from c.1680 and we go directly to 1780, in future articles, I will fill out the 1720s-1760s, so you can all see how the memento mori symbols were used in their context.

This brings us back to the primary themes of the these pieces and that is; what is the nature of the symbolism, why is it used, why would it have been commissioned and how would it have been worn?

Anachronistic 1780 Memento Mori Neoclassical Ring

Firstly, let’s look at the facts. The ring is dated 1780 and dedicated to Anne Staneway Obt 8 Mar 1780 AE 20. There is white enamel, domed crystal, the sepia painting and high relief tomb motif with the skull and crossbones on top, painted on the tomb is ‘tempus fugit’ (or ‘time flies) as the winged hourglass . There is the willow, cypress and all this sits underneath a piece of domed crystal. The bezel measures 3/4 inch by 1/2 inch and the band is 1/8 inch wide.

Anachronistic 1780 Memento Mori Neoclassical Ring

Judging from the construction, this piece is in quite original condition. Much of the time, sepia in such fine condition has been doctored with pieces today in order to repair or fetch a higher price, also, the crystal is another telltale sign that there has been some repair work. Often, glass has replaced with bevelled edges, as it’s much harder and more expensive to replicate this. From this piece, right down to the wear of the white enamel, it’s as it was and as it should stay. Visually, to see the richness of the white ivory and the enamel together really make the sepia and high relief gold/hairwork pop out at the viewer. This piece was made at a time of experimentation with the Neoclassical style, so much of these practices were still being understood before they became common in production.

Read the rest of this entry »

Judging from the title of this little piece, you’d think the article was based upon hairstyles of the Neoclassical era, but I’d like to focus on the jewellery aspect of it for a bit.

mourning ringOf the many different methods of constructing Neoclassical scenes in jewellery, forming a scene from hair itself is one of the most original and unique. Often, hair was ground into sepia paint and used in the typical scenes of the time, in other occasions, the hair was woven, glued and created part of an urn or created a high-relief or three-dimensional level to a scene, be it in a tree, plinth or tomb. But more interestingly is this particular style.

Ribbon Slide Crystal Mourning Memento MoriSilk is embroidered with hair, creating the depiction of the mourning or sentimental scene itself. What is wonderful about this style is how it has survived and how intricate it was. Indeed, this style had its roots in the 17th century, but not to the delicate extent of this. Embroidering fabric with hairwork, usually in initials or just integrating a hair weave into the material itself with gold initial cypher on top or an enamel/metal mourning/sentimental symbol.

Embroidered Hair Mourning Ring 1780

Even more interesting is that the construction itself could be performed by professionals and practiced in the home as well, making a wonderful variation between the higher-end quality pieces and those that veer into folk art. Usually the higher-end of the scale would emulate the classic mourning/sentimental sentiments and symbols with sheafs, flowers, urns, ribbons and the like, but more unusual examples are often the singular pieces, which didn’t need to hit a commercial prerogative. These, such as the one pictured, can be as strange as to emulate moss agate with hairwork. As stated by Ward, Cherry et al, it was ‘time-consuming work (which) was designed to occupy over-abundant leisure’.

So, there is a rather wonderful little curiosity from a magnificent era. I’ll be focusing on some of the more specialised techniques in jewellery as time goes on, so keep your eyes open for more!

Courtesy: British Museum

I’ve often made mention that one of the most prolific periods for jewellery experimentation in design came about during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This isn’t to discredit earlier or more modern periods, but there are simply moments in history when socially, culturally, financially and politically, a particular movement flourishes. It is during this time that a confluence of factors caused the outcome of experimentation and styles in jewellery, or at least, a mainstream cultural identity, be it Prussian, British, American or Italian, emerged with styles that started are clearly recognisable. Much of this has to do with higher production levels, greater social access to wealth/cultural mobility and advanced transit and communications, which not only broke down established borders, but upheld cultural uniqueness within different geographic parameters. Such as Continental travel had opened up for a society that now could focus on recreation and through this simple means, culture started to transcend borders that were traditionally drawn politically and culturally.

Blue Pearl Brooch

Forgive the long winded preamble, but now we can look at this wonderful brooch and how its style fits directly into these paradigms. The first thing to note is the excellent use of the variety of pearls, which for this style, as you will see in further examples, simply shows two things has occurred;

  1. There was a greater access to pearls through higher trade routes to the East (China and Japan) for potential use as a material and
  2. Styles has started to embrace material over classical depictions, a shift away from the obvious Neoclassical ideal.

The brooch is set on blue, foil-backed glass, in the same style as contemporary miniature portraits, so the method still remains adapted and not wholly unique to this particular style of brooch. For this manner of construction, often the most common type was to set the pearls on ‘a base of mother-of-pearl, gesso or plaster laid onto a background of blue enamel or blue glass and set under a domed glass cover.’

As for the style itself, using pearls on blue glass or enamel to depict Neoclassical scenes and symbolism was quite popular throughout the Continent and England. Particularly, this style can be found in pieces ranging from c.1790-1820 from the northern region of France and what is today Germany. Allegorical scenes, often transcending the ecclesiastical undercurrent of many painted Neoclassical scenes, are quite prevalent, focusing directly on the personal love sentiment instead. This is due to regional style, contemporary culture and religious influence in the art directly.

This style of pearls on blue glass or enamel is used heavily in sentimental jewels and can be seen in these further examples from the British Museum:


“Oval gold brooch with seed-pearls, in the form of a winged cupid with a lamb, on a base of mother-of-pearl, gesso or plaster; laid onto a background of blue enamel or blue glass and set under a domed glass cover in a gold mount within a pearl border. Inscribed in French.”


“Marquise-shaped pendant with seed-pearls, in the form of sheep and lambs under a tree, on a base of mother-of-pearl, gesso or plaster laid onto a background of blue enamel or blue glass and set under a domed glass cover in a gold mount with blue and white enamel and a tooled gold border. Compartment on reverse with plaited hair under glass.”


“Gold finger-ring with seed-pearls, in the form of a spray of flowers, on a base of mother-of-pearl, gesso or plaster; laid onto a background of blue enamel or blue glass under a domed glass cover in a gold mounted oval-shaped bezel with a pearl border.”


“Marquise-shaped pendant with seed-pearls, in the form of two birds carrying a knotted ribbon, flowers and wheat-ears, on a base of mother-of-pearl, gesso or plaster, laid onto a background of blue enamel or blue glass and set under a domed glass cover in a silver mount with a gold backing, with a border of pastes set in silver and a tooled gold inner rim.”

Blue Pearl Brooch

Upon the back of this brooch, we have a magnificent inscription that is quite personal for a dedication:

‘This Brooch was occasionally
worn for more than 40 years by James Saunders Esq who died on the
24th September, 1831 in the 79th year of his Age’

To state that a jewel was worn be a gentleman is firstly unusual (rather than directly dedicated to) and then there is the statement of the brooch being ‘occasionally worn’. From here, we move into supposition about the wearer. Why did he wear it? Was this a dedication for someone else or a personal sentiment? Who received the brooch after his passing to inscribe this upon it? Some wonderful questions that may never be answered, but fascinating ones all the same.

I have a few examples of this style in my collection, so when I finally get them out and properly photographed, I’ll continue the look at the pearl/blue phenomenon!

Courtesy: Penny Rushby-Smith

Symbolism Sunday: Drapery

November 14, 2010

The Drapery in Neoclassical ArtThis one is cheating a little, but it is a Sunday and you should be relaxing or collecting on a Sunday (pretty sure that’s in the bible somewhere), but drapery on an object in mourning is an important thing to look out for in any form of funerary art of jewellery.

It’s one of the symbols that can define a piece as being clearly mourning, rather than being for sentimental purposes. How so? For starters, a pre-existing photograph is simply a keepsake, however post-mortem, drapery over the photograph or portrait with a black curtain would introduce the sentiment of mourning. It’s really quite simple. Another example may be drapery across an unbroken column. The column is usually broken, symbolising life cut short, however, with the drapery over the top of the column, it masks the strength of the unbroken intent and creates the mourning pall across it. From draping/covering the body upon death, the symbolism of the covering as a curtain closing on the life is simple and rich.

Drapery isn’t a Victorian invention, but rather an ancient one, having strong roots in Hellenistic / Classical Greek art quite notable for mourning are various funerary stele depicting drapery across. However, one shouldn’t consider basic drapery as being a sign of mourning across all art, it is specific to its subject, rather than just being an artistic practice of style and technique. Always judge the drapery across the object or symbol for its purpose, otherwise a charming depiction of someone reclining could turn into something slightly more morbid.

Ok, that was simple! I wonder what there will be next week…

Previously on Symbolism Sunday:

The Acorn

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

Anachronistic 1780 Memento Mori Neoclassical Ring

Continuing our look at memento mori in jewellery through the ages comes this stunning piece from the collection of Marielle Soni. This particular piece jumps ahead of our previous example from c.1680 and we go directly to 1780, in future articles, I will fill out the 1720s-1760s, so you can all see how the memento mori symbols were used in their context.

This brings us back to the primary themes of the these pieces and that is; what is the nature of the symbolism, why is it used, why would it have been commissioned and how would it have been worn?

Anachronistic 1780 Memento Mori Neoclassical Ring

Firstly, let’s look at the facts. The ring is dated 1780 and dedicated to Anne Staneway Obt 8 Mar 1780 AE 20. There is white enamel, domed crystal, the sepia painting and high relief tomb motif with the skull and crossbones on top, painted on the tomb is ‘tempus fugit’ (or ‘time flies) as the winged hourglass . There is the willow, cypress and all this sits underneath a piece of domed crystal. The bezel measures 3/4 inch by 1/2 inch and the band is 1/8 inch wide.

Anachronistic 1780 Memento Mori Neoclassical Ring

Judging from the construction, this piece is in quite original condition. Much of the time, sepia in such fine condition has been doctored with pieces today in order to repair or fetch a higher price, also, the crystal is another telltale sign that there has been some repair work. Often, glass has replaced with bevelled edges, as it’s much harder and more expensive to replicate this. From this piece, right down to the wear of the white enamel, it’s as it was and as it should stay. Visually, to see the richness of the white ivory and the enamel together really make the sepia and high relief gold/hairwork pop out at the viewer. This piece was made at a time of experimentation with the Neoclassical style, so much of these practices were still being understood before they became common in production.

Read the rest of this entry »

Let me begin today’s lesson by stating that to some degree, mourning jewels are fundamentally sentimental and quite personal. There is little to no doubt about that. Grief isn’t something that can be measured by price, it’s not an affectation and it’s not something that any layer of pomp can prove justification to.

18th Century Mourning MIniature with Contemporary WomanWhen it comes to jewels, no matter what the quality, they were worn for the ideal of grief, regardless of their quality and when you see a piece that not only defies the mainstream, or tradition, of popular at a certain period, you know you’re looking at something special. Does that make the piece any more sentimental than any other mass produced item from a catalogue? I think not.

This piece rises above the expectations of the time in which is was made, it produces a bold statement about the person who held/wore/commissioned it and it demands an immediacy of emotion that was rarely captured in miniature paintings, an immediacy and proximity to the subject that perhaps only photographs could manage to take.

Read the rest of this entry »

I was going to write about more about memento mori today, but with presenting such lovely and emotionally charged pieces like this, I think it’s time to cleanse the palate with this refreshingly beautiful sentimental Neoclassical piece with sepia on ivory.

Le Plus Loin Le Plus Serre Mourning Pendant

Symbolism and beauty are two words to describe this French piece. The two birds (winged souls) tying together the knot of eternity and love as the ship is sailing away from the castle on top of a cliff face. The boat can be taken as a literal interpretation of sentimental distance, or as the passage of a soul towards the afterlife, however as the boat shows its passage towards the horizon, then one can expect that the symbolism falls into the latter. When combined with the eternity knot, the sentiment of love shows a love forever unbroken despite any figurative distance.

On the reverse, we have the very thick weave of the hairwork in a lattice, which is a style typical of many French pieces, as well as contemporary styles of the c.1780s – particularly in miniatures and large pendants. Of course, much of this is reliant on the hair available, as the industry wasn’t at its scale of the mid 19th century where hair was important and used in great quantities, hence often the hairwork used was at the mercy of what could be obtained.

French mourning pendant

When looking at a piece like this, one must consider the quality of the sepia art. Note how sharp and certain the lines are, there’s little area in the depiction for mistakes or parts where the attention to detail is lacking. The whole canvas of the ivory has been considered as to how to paint this piece, as is often the case with French pieces.

Along the Continent, the mourning industry wasn’t as ubiquitous; the higher the Catholic influences, the difference in the displays of mourning and the very different customs must be understood. Hence why when a French piece comes along, the general quality tends of often be higher, the same with much of the German pieces. There was a higher demand in England for mourning jewels to facilitate social convention, hence a greater output and much more variance between quality and style. One can discover an English piece with amazing quality or very naive quality.

So, note the waves and their individual undulating lines, note the attention to the brushwork where they grow thick to very fine, note how they change direction to show the coarseness of waves. Then the tree and how it interacts with the banner; note how the banner is curved along with the contour of the piece and the tree is nestled in quite comfortably underneath. From this, the individual leaves and branch are shaded, on a piece with gradients of one colour, this shows very high skill and planning.

I think the only the scale of the birds to the castle and and attempt at the rendering of the cliff face are the only parts which weigh this piece down (this from the cross-hatching of the cliff’s shading), but understandably the birds are primary focus to the symbolism with the knot, so the necessarily is understood.

That should be enough for today! Oh, look at that… Tomorrow is Sunday… I wonder what tomorrow’s lesson will be? Get ready for Symbolism Sunday, which may have something to do with the number 3!

Courtesy:Barbara Robbins
Country: France
Year: c. 1780-90
Dedication: “Le Plus Loin Le Plus Serre” – “The further the distance the tighter the knot.”

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.

Sepia Ring

A prime example of Neoclassicism and white enamel

If you know me, you know I like my white enamel pieces, often because of their immediate sentimentality and their ability to speak volumes without even the use of a standard memorial motif.

Sarah Jervis White Enamel and Sepia Mourning Ring, 1777

With the one colour, the life of a person is represented; virginal, pure, often young and innocent. Black has its obvious connotations, but there’s something infinitely touching about the white enamel, as death is a certainty any way you look at it.

Which brings me to this wonderful example of a sepia ring with the white enamel. Let’s have a look at some of the obvious features.

Firstly, there is the white enamel, I’ve written about this subject quite a bit, but at first glance, we can see that the person (in this case, Sarah Jervis) was unmarried. She died at the age of 24, which was no young age for its time, so there the fact that the ring was constructed opens up the possibility for a decidedly well-off, larger sized family. Sarah Jervis White Enamel and Sepia Mourning Ring, 1777An assumption would be that the ring was commissioned by a member of her family, as there is no personal dedication of the ring to a specific person (often inscribed underneath the bezel), but the ring has been polished quite a bit and such dedication may have been lost (if it was ever there). I would lean towards this not having been there, as several rings for Sarah would quite possibly have been constructed, this is conjecture, however.

Sarah Jervis White Enamel and Sepia Mourning Ring, 1777Next we have the year of construction, which would be around 1777. Combined with the white enamel and the connection of the shank to the bezel, we have a lovely look at the evolving style of jewellery from the mid 18th century.

Sarah Jervis White Enamel and Sepia Mourning Ring, 1777

The curve to the inner shank borrows from the earlier Rococo bands, popular in the 1740s to the 1760s. Its clear connection to the bezel shows no tampering, so it’s in quite honest, solid shape.

Then there is the sepia on top. Painted on ivory and set under convex crystal, this depicts a well defined urn underneath the willow tree. Standard motifs for death and sorrow for a loved one, but this is quite delicately painted.

Sarah Jervis White Enamel and Sepia Mourning Ring, 1777Overall, this ring is quite typical for its time, this oval/band combination running parallel to the navette shape. The white enamel makes it particularly special and I would like to thank the ring’s owner, Jim Williams, for opening it up for discussion!

Courtesy: Jim Williams
Dedication: Sarah Jervis / OB: 25 July 1777

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 »

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