We have taken a look at some of the more unusual design elements at the turn of the 19th century jewellery, each reflecting a society adapting to new methods and tools of construction, access to materials and fashion that began to demand jewellery as a social expectation, rather than social denominator. With this little ring, we can see the use of machine turning to the gold-work in order to create an exact pattern across its entire body.

Inside, however, the hairwork memento still remains. This style did not adapt easily to the application of gems and stones, due to its uniform design, but makes a grand statement in its gold-work.

However, this is a style derived from the mainstream oval/rectangular shape of ring design, as opposed to that style being derived from this. Furthermore, the contour of the band reflects the earlier late 18th century navette/round styles, in that it isn’t a shank meeting the bezel to flatten out underneath, but a clear, circular contour.

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:

c.1815

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.

Experimentation of styles at the end of the Neoclassical movement created some unusual and quite beautiful forms of mainstream design in jewellery that were discontinued by the coming Gothic Revival and seemingly original for their time. Often, designs used in jewellery have some continuity or pedigree for their form, which makes their adaptation of any mainstream artistic flourishes seem quite understandable.

Yet, the early 19th century was a time of discovery and change. Much of the techniques used in traditional jewellery construction were being overtaken with the growing industrial revolution, production was growing to new levels, access to inexpensive materials transcended status to the point of social necessity. Hence, there was more room for experimentation in jewellery fashion, styles could exist for a short period and quickly disappear.

These particular rings show a motif in the shoulders and shank which have some basis in the navette style, but turn this into a design which is much more organic to the contour of the finger. While the style of the open wire/fretwork is a new one, it still honours the symbolism typical of its time.

With this particular ring, the symbolism in the eternity symbol is used to expand the shoulders, enhancing its simple symbolism and the nature of the design itself. What is more striking is that the ring’s memento area is shaped as a diamond, crossing diagonally around the finger. This also reflects upon the changing nature of the sentimental style of the time as well; what could also be a larger, ivory memento with a portrait or mourning/sentimental depiction is now the simple hairwork of the loved one, outwardly displayed for all to see.

Dedication: 2 December 1800 / J.J

Following on with this style, the wire-work open-shank can be seen in many other pieces of the first-quarter 19th century, with more or less elaboration. Often, the bezel is oval shaped with hairwork inside. This was at a time when the ‘Georgian Eye’ portrait was reaching its crescendo, suggesting that the oval and the eye have an intrinsic link in the design motif. Either way, it was phased out to become a more traditional rectangle, but keeping the same hairwork/materials inside.

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

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

While we’re working behind the scenes rebuilding Art of Mourning, let’s reflect on this magnificent tale from the crypt:
Rose and Yellow Gold 'Cigar Band' Ring / 1810

Rose and yellow gold with enamel. It appears the hair is laid on card with letters printed on it and research found Alexander Scott was from Lancaster County, PA and held a seat in the Legislature between 1797-1800.

This ‘cigar band’ style of shape is not an American invention; very much the style of US jewellery had a precedence in Europe and just made variations of the theme. Let’s explore the nature of the band itself. One can find its style dating back to the navette shape of the 1780s, where the shank splays out towards the bezel and forms part of the ring itself. The way this conforms to the finger and holds the popular styled shape of the ring is important. The navette style was particularly popular during the 1780-1800 period and the thing to focus on is the shape itself and how the shank holds it.

Rose and Yellow Gold 'Cigar Band' Ring / 1810

As the style over these years began to accommodate the more neo-classical oval shape and materials began to take over the focal point of the navette (being the painted art), the shank accommodated the shape as well. So, this style isn’t related so much to the mourning band of yore, but was more of a way to accommodate shape.

The style as it developed accommodated a cheaper price point. Often one can find these pieces to have a base metal underneath or sometimes have hollow areas underneath the bezel itself. One could surmise that the American adaptation of this style very much satisfied a middle-class market that couldn’t afford the higher price margin for similar shaped bezels with higher detail to the shank.

Rose and Yellow Gold 'Cigar Band' Ring / 1810These are more prolific due to cheaper construction (but not in all cases). That said, the fine pieces with higher gold content and detail are perfect examples of their time, they simply followed a fashion and as with most US forms, found its origins in Europe which subsequently found its origins in earlier pieces that simply evolved to accommodate this fashion.

Look to the more oval, geometric, smaller and quite interesting methods of gold work that were experimented with during the first quarter 19th century (look to the rings first) to see how the style evolved.

Courtesy: Sarah Nehama
Country: United States of America
Year: 1810
Dedication: Alex(R) Scott OB 21 Mar 1810 AE 47

Charles I Mourning Ring FrontThis piece dedicated to Charles I is a display of affection that would eventually generate the popularity of the mourning custom. Looking at the piece, Charles’ eyes are turned upwards, which confirms the piece was created after his death. Pieces of this quality are historically important for their relevance to English history and in mourning jewellery. Incredibly rare, other examples can be seen in the V&A Museum. Though there is repair work to the shank, the style of the ring is a good indication of the mid 17th Century.

Rings of the time, particularly after the death of Charles I in 1649, used much of the memento mori symbolism (more on that in another post), but the difference of putting the portrait of Charles I (above), or pieces with the initials CR, shows a distinct change of memento mori as a statement to one of reverence.Charles I Mourning Ring Back Note that Charles’ eyes are facing upwards, which denotes the death of the subject. Earlier portraits (during his lifetime) had the eyes facing forward. These eyes are looking to the heavens. Pieces like this were created during the royalist movement (and beyond) and would eventually spur on the English Restoration leading to the instalment of Charles II.

Charles I Mourning Ring Inside

The distribution of rings had been written into wills of the late 16th and early 17th Centuries. Most famously, William Shakespeare in 1616 declared that in his will that his daughter and wife should have rings stating “Love My Memory” . This custom, though used, was not as popular as the latter half of the 17th Century would prove, though is provides a good basis for what was to come. Posy rings, typically bands with inscriptions, were popular for sentimental purposes during the 17th Century.

Country: England
Year: c. 1649
Dedication: Charles I “prepared be to follow me”
Courtesy: Barbara Robbins

Further Reading
How Society Entered Mourning: c.1680-1700 Memento Mori Mourning Ring
> Spotlight On: Ribbon Slides
> Charles I Enamel Locket
> Charles II Silver Locket
> Queen Mary II Memento Mori Slide
> Revisiting A Charles II Pendant

I’ve written quite a bit about memento mori, it seems to be one of those subjects that is as fascinating as it is polarising. Why is that so? Well, there are so many different connotations involved with the symbolism and that seems to be the crossroads (pardon the veiled pun) of what defines these magical pieces.

If you look to my post from Saturday about the 18th Century Skull on Pendant, then you will see the other end of the scale, which is clearly not a representation of death, but rather the statement of living. However, today we look at the other end of the spectrum with this very rare and very high quality ring from the collection of Marielle Soni is most certainly constructed with the intent of death and mourning. To discern this, firstly let’s look at the time and place of when it was created and why this was so popular.

c.1680-1700 Memento Mori Mourning Ring

This piece was constructed c.1680-1700 and we have many ways to check the validity of this. Firstly, we have the shank itself and note the embellishments. Often, pieces like this have lost their enamel inlay and are quite worn down, but this one is a perfect representation of how it was from when it was constructed. Note the Baroque influence in the design and how this would influence pieces of contemporary and later times. Particularly, the society in which this ring was created was dealing with the new found stability in the government due to the Restoration and from this, industry was finding new ways to create a niche in producing items for a society that was becoming upwardly mobile in ways that had not been seen since the Roman era. Appropriating popular art styles, such as that of the all-pervasive Baroque, and using its influence in products was (and still is) only a logical step in simply selling an item.

c.1680-1700 Memento Mori Mourning Ring

And to follow on from this, we have the skull and crossbones underneath the faceted crystal, an obvious choice for popular symbolism that was now quite heavily associated with death and grief. Gone was the clear establishment of a class that could afford to flaunt its wealth, standard of living and changed were the classes below that could not afford to live in such an almost narcissistic paradigm. Wearing a jewel to show that you will be judged and to live life for all its benefits is quite a grand statement during times with high mortality rates and a more feudal-based system of government, but during the 1670s-80s, there’s a strong shift to higher industry, specialised work and education. Politically, England was recovering from a civil war and the reinstatement of the kingship in Charles II in 1660, the Great Plague of London in 1665 and the Great Fire of London in 1666. There was a high mortality rate and Charles II was only beginning the process of the Restoration. Hence, pieces like this could allow themselves to become more commonplace, the symbols of death could be appropriated for an industry that was reacting to the execution of a king and a subsequent civil war, it could pick up on the nuanced tokens of affection that became popular from this and it could produce a product that was relatively easier to produce and almost the same to sell.

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The Victorian appropriation of the Rococo style is something that overtook the mainstream and led to many good pieces of art and jewellery. Influenced by Romanticism, you can see the impact on this particular ring:

Rococo Revival Ring

Rococo Revival Ring

Rococo Revival Ring

Louis XVI Royalist Supporter French Ring
Excuse me while I marvel at this gem – please tell the crowd all about it, Barbara:

“this is Royalist Supporter jewelry, late 18th century, commemorating the deaths of Marie Antoinette, her husband Louis XVI and their son, the Dauphin. This high carat gold ring is set with a sulphide cameo encrustation portrait of the ill-fated Royal family. The portrait is set to a gold frame with the black enamel motto “Iis sont immortels (they are immortal), under crystal.  It is in perfect condition, but I couldn’t get the photo without a very small glare.”

Louis XVI Royalist Supporter French RingLouis XVI Royalist Supporter French Ring

Watering Can Ring French Sepia c.1780s

From the collection of the always wonderful Barbara Robbins comes this very interesting ring! Take it away, Barbara:

“This one is very interesting, and I think it is probably sentimental rather than mourning.  It shows a lady with a watering can.  The French words are “Je prendre soin de sa culture, ” which translated means “I take cre of your culture (nourishment), etc.  The words are pretty close to the top which makes me think that maybe this is not the original shank and case, though it is an old one and it fits quite well.  There could be another explanation for the words being so close to the top.  I don’t know.”

Watering Can Ring French Sepia c.1780s

Watering Can Ring French Sepia c.1780s

Urn Willow Onyx Mourning Ring

If you know me well enough, you may think this is hypocritical, but sometimes I often buy jewellery to wear. Yes, as a person who is based in conservation and education, I love my urn/mourning motifs and this one grabbed me. I was in London looking down upon a cabinet of jewellery and it just spoke to my heart. As you can see, there are no dedications on it, which make it safe for me to wear and not feel that I’m harming the memory of a person.

Urn Willow Onyx Mourning Ring

Urn Willow Onyx Mourning RingWant to read a bit more on the use of the willow in jewellery symbolism? Then why not click over here for more!

Chas Fraser / OB: 16 April 1746 / Born: May 23/ 1725 Mourning RingAh, another delight torn from the clutches of London! This one came from a collection of an antiques dealer in Portobello Road and when I saw the eternity twist in the domed crystal with its completely free-floating transparency, I had to have it. Excuse the pictures, photography isn’t my forte.

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

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Amethyst Ring Mary Wooley OB: 8 April 1765 AE: 64

My dear jewellery historians, what is it that strikes you about this ring on first appearance? Look at it carefully and we’ll talk more about it after the jump…

Had a good look? Yes, it’s a beautiful thing and look at those colours…

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Envelope Ring 19th Century

Despite the introduction of lower grade alloys in jewellery post Hallmarking Act of 1854, no construction or detail was lost in translation, regardless of the materials used. For today’s wonderful presentation, we have a stunning little envelope ring that shows just how intricate construction can be.

I’ve shown various swivel rings and rings with opening hair compartments (such as this marvellous example from 1881), but this piece shows the double fold and catch set in the envelope/pouch design.

Envelope Ring 19th CenturyMid to late 19th century fashion adopted many classical art forms and created various revivals in art, such as Rococo, Etruscan, Greek, Gothic and Roman, yet one thing remains underlying these various forms of art and that is the heavy symbolism used in motifs. This, along with the envelope itself, shows the detailed vine pattern rising across the shank and over the envelope folds. The envelope itself signifies the shortness of emotional distance between the wearer and the person who has given it, regardless of the physical distance. Hence, the motif can work as both sentimental or memorial love token.

Also note the hair being inside a compartment, a popular style from the late 1860s onwards, as opposed to larger earlier styles.

Courtesy: Sarah Nehama

Strange sized fingers and opening hinges while a jewellery historian binges on a wealth of fabulous examples of this odd construction technique.

modern hinged ring

modern hinge

Based on Monday’s Space Oddity; Understanding a Hinged / Locket Sentimental Ring with Hair, we need to understand that the implication wasn’t that this form of construction was never followed again, as to insinuate that a method of construction isn’t replicated considering that there are only limited ways to fit a ring to a finger is ridiculous, however, to consider this a style that was part of mainstream thought and a catalyst for a popular style is certainly not appropriate.

When pieces with unusual construction methods appear, the fundamental reason for them being unusual and not commonplace (though though produced in areas or by request) is that what the general populace takes for granted as being a ‘style’ doesn’t merge with what the technique that makes the piece ‘unusual’.

For example, these examples show a how the style was not necessarily adapted from the piece earlier in the week, but requested or specifically constructed for their purpose.

1858

This piece separates past the shoulder, allowing the enamelled design to appear uninterrupted and also hide much of the hinge itself, except for where it joins at the bezel.

1870

From this example, another form of the locket construction is quite different, separating and connecting from shoulder to shoulder, leaving the bezel free and completely obscuring the hinge itself.

What can be decided about these items is that they were commissioned for a reason.

This leaves two options, one must ask that in a world where rings were often made for the intended person, why would one construct a ring with a hinge? Consider these points and feel free to discuss!

1. The ring was created this way to overcome a large knuckle. If so, then by implication, a specific finger is required for that ring. Why would one finger be more important than another?

2. The ring was made and altered. Why would the ring be this way? Would you suggest that it may have been produced from the money allocated in the will and made to a generic size?

3. Would jeweller have experimented with this style?

4. Could it be created to preserve the band?

5. Perhaps a cultural phenomenon that was popular for a short while?

Courtesy and thanks: Marielle Soni, Verlaine Davies, rings from ‘Rings 1800… – 1910’, Write Designs, LTD, Ruidoso, NM, 2009 and the modern ring Sarah Nehama

c1770 Garnet Paste Ring

April 14, 2011

1770 Garnet, Paste RingA wonderful antique late Georgian English, solid 9 carat gold (tests thereabouts) ring; beautifully made, with ornate shoulders, radially fluted basket-back head, and set with a deep red foiled garnet flanked by four graduated colourless pastes in silver settings.

This one actually fell through the cracks of my collection, as I’ve been buying more than I’ve been talking about over the past year or so (I’m doing it for myself and it feels so good). This one comes from England and shows all the signs of the Rococo period in transition.

Of note is the rosette shape to the bezel, this is usually a good (though rough) indicator to mid 18th century rings as well as the rather straight-edged band. The band brings it more into line with the emerging neoclassical period, which started to remove the excessive organic flourishes from gold work and follow more geometric lines (whilst presenting its business end within the artistry of miniatures). Do note that this band has sizing to the back and no dedication to speak of.

A nice little thing.

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

Revisiting A Charles I Ring

December 20, 2010

Charles I Mourning Ring FrontThis piece dedicated to Charles I is a display of affection that would eventually generate the popularity of the mourning custom. Looking at the piece, Charles’ eyes are turned upwards, which confirms the piece was created after his death. Pieces of this quality are historically important for their relevance to English history and in mourning jewellery. Incredibly rare, other examples can be seen in the V&A Museum. Though there is repair work to the shank, the style of the ring is a good indication of the mid 17th Century.

Rings of the time, particularly after the death of Charles I in 1649, used much of the memento mori symbolism (more on that in another post), but the difference of putting the portrait of Charles I (above), or pieces with the initials CR, shows a distinct change of memento mori as a statement to one of reverence.Charles I Mourning Ring Back Note that Charles’ eyes are facing upwards, which denotes the death of the subject. Earlier portraits (during his lifetime) had the eyes facing forward. These eyes are looking to the heavens. Pieces like this were created during the royalist movement (and beyond) and would eventually spur on the English Restoration leading to the instalment of Charles II.

The distribution of rings had been written into wills of the late 16th and early 17th Centuries. Most famously, William Shakespere in 1616 declared that in his will that his daughter and wife should have rings stating “Love My Memory” . This custom, though used, was not as popular as the latter half of the 17th Century would prove, though is provides a good basis for what was to come. Posy rings, typically bands with inscriptions, were popular for sentimental purposes during the 17th Century.

Charles I Mourning Ring InsideCountry: England
Year: c. 1649
Dedication: Charles I “prepared be to follow me”

1765 Mourning BandLet’s go back to 1765 for a little while. The Stamp Act was passed from Great Britain to the American colonies, the Isle of Man becomes the property of Britain, the first ‘restaurant’ was opened in Paris and industry was developing steam power. The Seven Years War had just ended and Britain was expanding at an incredible rate. The world was certainly becoming a smaller place to live and many of the modern social and cultural tenants that we take for granted today originate to this time. Indeed, it’s remarkable how society fundamentally doesn’t change through its fundamental nature, but simply the things around us morph and change with the advancement of time and technology. So important was this time that culturally, if things didn’t go according to plan, I wouldn’t be sitting here in Australia writing this article and you may certainly have different borders and hierarchies to follow.

I think it’s very important to take in a lot of the cultural history before we launch into looking at this wonderful little band. Dedicated to William Wood, who passed on the 29th of September, 1765 at age 44 and born on the 8th of August 1721, William would have been privy to much social and cultural change in his time. And that in itself tells us much about the nature of this ring itself. On the face of it, this band seems quite typical, but it’s on the cusp of another very important social change.

Rococo Influence

The Rococo Period that was all pervasive in mainstream jewellery, with its opulent flourishes and twists to the band was being taken over by straighter lines and edges. This style took from around 1740-1780 to disappear completely, as styles often do. As a side note, it’s dangerous to think that one decade, year or cultural change equals a completely fundamental change in style. Unless there’s a catastrophic event that decimates a culture, then styles continue, people age and carry through much of the styles with them. Look at the Jet industry, that didn’t die off in proper use until about 1958, a good 60 years after the mourning industry was in mourning for itself.
1765 Mourning Band

Back to the ring and as we can see, there’s the familiar interior curve to the band itself. This is important to note as we can date this quite easily to the mid 18th century just from that fact alone. Then there is the aforementioned straight lines with the enamel inlay. As a style, enamel inlay was becoming increasingly popular, as it was simple to manufacture and also to personalise. To have a ring commissioned with the name inside would be specified in the will and several copies would be produced, it was part of the monetary allocation specified post-mortem along with the funeral itself. Hence it isn’t very difficult to find multiples of the same rings (often surviving in the same families) even today.

One of  the more interesting facets of this ring are the absolutely amazing rises in the gold-world to the edge. That is one of the most individual characteristics of this particular ring. Often, the band is straight or blessed with Rococo twists, but this appears to be more of a crown in depiction. Combined with the roll of the interior, it is a very elegant and unusual design, particularly when the Neoclassical style was becoming all-pervasive.

1765 Mourning Band

1786 Ring Band

evolution of the band

Note also the use of the font and how ubiquitous this is throughout other rings of the period. It wasn’t uncommon to find combinations of this style with the enamelled band and name inlay plus the navette or oval shape of the 1770s and 80s, though they are somewhat harder to find. Note that this ring has the interior engraving, which isn’t completely common with these bands, but they can often be different if you have two pieces matching on the exterior dedication for a person, with the personal sentiment inside being comissioned by the wearer.

Bands of this kind are special and provided a populace with increasing social mobility to budget and display their grief regardless of social status. They have their history to thank from as early as 1500 and then with posy rings as an influence (with concurrent mourning rings) and continued to develop right into the 20th century. I’ll be showing more examples as time goes on!

Courtesy: Marielle Soni
Dedication: (exterior) WILLM WOOD OB 29 SEP 1765 AE 44 (interior) Born 8 aug 1721

Because I can, here’s a sneak peek at my newest addition to the family and something you’ll be seeing a large article about in the near future!

“A rare early 18th century Memento Mori band gold known as a skeletal, as the whole length of the skeleton is employed on the outside of the hoop, with other emblems. The earliest known example is dated 1659. This ring is enamelled in black with a full skeleton, twin hearts for love and an hourglass, symbolic of the passage of time and the brevity of life. It is size J [US 4 and 5/8] and the band is 1/8 of an inch wide. A rare ring which has survived in amazingly good condition with enamel intact.”

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.

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Been somewhat of an odd sort myself, it’s when I find the oddities and individuals in sentimental and mourning jewellery design that I get somewhat excited.

Locket Ring, Hinged with Hairwork

Often, it is the oddity that turns into a new and popular movement in mourning and sentimental jewellery, such as how was a popular art integrated into these fashionable tokens of affection that could be displayed on the person or otherwise, how did a method of construction develop from an original idea into something that was adapted? From the collection of Marielle Soni, we have this very unusual locket ring. And what do I mean by locket ring, dear reader? Well, no, it’s not that the hair memento compartment is hinged, but the entire band is hinged and locks into the bezel.

Firstly we must look at the gold content of the ring, which tests to 18ct, on top, we have the latticed hairwork under glass and the shape is rectangular. From the look of the hinge and how it recesses into the bezel, one must consider that the ring was an original, contemporary creation, but we’ll get to that later. Inside the band, we have the sentiment ‘God for me appointed thee.’ Outside the band, there is a somewhat worn design with three lines followed by three circular shapes.

Locket Ring, Hinged with Hairwork

Starting with the bezel, the contour of its underside conforms with the shape of the finger. One thing that would be considered when looking at a piece so unusual is that it may be a marriage of styles. Often, ribbon slides, brooches, pins and bracelet clasps were reappropriated to become rings or other forms of jewellery, this is quite common and there is a remarkable amount of them surviving today. These marriages have no set date, one must consider when the change may have occurred. A 16th or 17th century piece may have been adapted during the 19th century (early 19th century conversions are quite popular), however, in this piece, the bezel conforms and shows the mechanical recess of the hinge. Note how the mechanism splays out from the bezel itself to the undercarriage of the hinge, creating a ring that wouldn’t pinch the skin when clasped. The designer understood form and function by looking at this.

Locket Ring, Hinged with Hairwork

Note etching

Next are the designs on the bezel, note the high relief of its construction and the etched lines that flow with its contour. This is a method reminiscent of the emerging geometric line-work of c.1800 through the Regency Period which complemented the bold form-factors of Neoclassical jewels. Often, there’s a clear distinction between the navette and oval shapes used for housing ivory to the rectangular, square and even diamond shapes with the hair memento placed on top.

This ring falls into this category and along with various other examples of experimental jewellery designs of the time. Also, the high relief of the bezel is considered to be a good method to house both the hair and the hinge in construction, which doesn’t make for high practicality when wearing, but there’s a definite experimental leaning with getting this style right.

Locket Ring, Hinged with Hairwork

Diamond shaped 1800 ring

unusual diamond shape c.1800

The symbolism and motifs on the band are also unusual. They appear to be earlier, commissioned specifically or simply flourishes of the designer of the time. It is because they simply don’t correlate with contemporary jewellery and popular styles that one can ascertain this. There is a definite hint of naivety in the design, but with the wear, it makes it harder to consider. Putting emphasis on the meaning of the design is completely subjective, however, there may be the influence of ‘eternity’ within, but the unbroken circles.

What we can understand is that the ring is sentimental in intent and the anachronistic posy dedication ‘God for me appointed thee’ is a clear indicator of this. Indeed, the nature of the posy was that its intent was private and many were constructed under personal commission by various socio-economic methods. Many range from the poorer end of the scale to the very high end, but that underlines that they were indeed created for the purpose of being a direct love token, rather than a piece chosen from a catalogue post-mortem as mourning jewels often here. Does this piece conform to that, or is it a certain regional style? Is it a marriage or simply experimentation over a period where some of the most elaborate jewellery design experiments were undertaken? Why wasn’t the style adapted? The elaborate construction, the ease of how it may break, difficulty sizing and the general discomfort wearing may have played a part in that, but all we can do right now is wonder.

Locket Ring, Hinged with Hairwork

Despite what we may think of the piece today, someone wore this on their finger at a certain time and felt the love for someone through it and what could be more beautiful than that? Enjoy the images, because I know I am!

Courtesy and Thanks: Marielle Soni

I’ve written quite a bit about memento mori, it seems to be one of those subjects that is as fascinating as it is polarising. Why is that so? Well, there are so many different connotations involved with the symbolism and that seems to be the crossroads (pardon the veiled pun) of what defines these magical pieces.

If you look to my post from Saturday about the 18th Century Skull on Pendant, then you will see the other end of the scale, which is clearly not a representation of death, but rather the statement of living. However, today we look at the other end of the spectrum with this very rare and very high quality ring from the collection of Marielle Soni is most certainly constructed with the intent of death and mourning. To discern this, firstly let’s look at the time and place of when it was created and why this was so popular.

c.1680-1700 Memento Mori Mourning Ring

This piece was constructed c.1680-1700 and we have many ways to check the validity of this. Firstly, we have the shank itself and note the embellishments. Often, pieces like this have lost their enamel inlay and are quite worn down, but this one is a perfect representation of how it was from when it was constructed. Note the Baroque influence in the design and how this would influence pieces of contemporary and later times. Particularly, the society in which this ring was created was dealing with the new found stability in the government due to the Restoration and from this, industry was finding new ways to create a niche in producing items for a society that was becoming upwardly mobile in ways that had not been seen since the Roman era. Appropriating popular art styles, such as that of the all-pervasive Baroque, and using its influence in products was (and still is) only a logical step in simply selling an item.

c.1680-1700 Memento Mori Mourning Ring

And to follow on from this, we have the skull and crossbones underneath the faceted crystal, an obvious choice for popular symbolism that was now quite heavily associated with death and grief. Gone was the clear establishment of a class that could afford to flaunt its wealth, standard of living and changed were the classes below that could not afford to live in such an almost narcissistic paradigm. Wearing a jewel to show that you will be judged and to live life for all its benefits is quite a grand statement during times with high mortality rates and a more feudal-based system of government, but during the 1670s-80s, there’s a strong shift to higher industry, specialised work and education. Politically, England was recovering from a civil war and the reinstatement of the kingship in Charles II in 1660, the Great Plague of London in 1665 and the Great Fire of London in 1666. There was a high mortality rate and Charles II was only beginning the process of the Restoration. Hence, pieces like this could allow themselves to become more commonplace, the symbols of death could be appropriated for an industry that was reacting to the execution of a king and a subsequent civil war, it could pick up on the nuanced tokens of affection that became popular from this and it could produce a product that was relatively easier to produce and almost the same to sell.

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As mentioned last week, I spent an all-too-brief weekend in Sydney, where I got to meet a lot of lovely people who all opened their ears to my unstoppable rambling about old jewellery. I’d like to thank the wonderful people at the Victoria & Albert Antiques store at the Strand Arcade for their hospitality and the lovely conversation! If you’re ever in the city, do pop in and have a look, they have some magnificent things. I’d also like to thank all the lovely people who wrote in and gave me some superb advice on where to go treasure hunting in New South Wales, your help was not only brilliant, but invaluable.

But enough of the preamble, you’re wondering what did a lucky lad like myself find? Was there any form of treasure that I couldn’t pass by? Well, I’m an impulsive chap by nature, so I can’t restrain myself sometimes and couldn’t resist the allure of the following brooch and ring:

Garnet Ring, c.1830

(excuse the impromptu phone-photography)

1830s Embellished 3rd Stage Mourning Ring

Similar Style

The ring is 9ct and the beautiful garnet (which is a rather pale/ruby colour, I’ll see if I can get better pictures soon) is a later replacement for the original hair memento. Surrounding the ring and following over the bezel is the magnificent 1830s floral embellishments, which show the evolution of the style from the previous cleaner lines of the Regency period.

Note the similarities to the following piece and see how the design became ubiquitous. Another lovely feature of the ring that is now sitting proudly in the collection is that it shows very little wear at all, for a ring that has design built into the band, there’s very little wear.

Early 19th century brooch with hair and pearlsAs for this brooch, I can’t say enough superlatives to describe how wonderful it is. It has the rectangular shape that was quite common from around 1800-1820 and would date to the earlier side of this. Surrounding, the pearls are in remarkable condition, but it’s also inside where this brooch is the business. Here, we have a border in gold, with triangular patterns etched in (which when magnified look almost Masonic, but one would assume it’s simply the design) and then the dual over-crossed hairwork underneath. What makes the hair so lovely is that the contrast of the brown/blonde hair is so striking, that you can’t ignore it. Furthermore, what is rather unconventional is that rather than using slim glass, there is a heavy, domed piece of crystal covering the hair and magnifying it as well. With so much at play here, the piece is actually physically weighty to hold.

Is that all, you’re wondering? Well, I did see a lovely blue enamel mid-19th century ring with pearls in the daisy configuration and hair compartment underneath that was in stunning condition, but my wallet can only take so much. Yet, there may be a couple more pieces that I’ve seen which may take the flight down to Melbourne in the next few days, but that remains to be seen.

Right now, I’m very happy with the new additions to the family and to everyone who I met and who helped me along the way, my undying thanks!

Late Victorian Hair Band

In the same vein as the surrounding hair bands, this piece is c1890 and carries a single pearl (tear).

Hair Reveal

Note the undulating gold design around the band revealing panels of hair underneath and the the way that they are tied together, leading towards the pearl on top. Simple and elegant, the late 19th century took great care with the fine details, regardless of being higher or lower end pieces.

Being widely prolific throughout the world, this band has its origins outside of Britain as it doesn’t carry the correct hallmarks, but these were widely produced along the Continent and especially in the United States.

Courtesy: Sarah Nehama

Further Reading on Hair Bands

The Late 19th Century and Buckle Rings

An 1876 Hair Ring

A Late 19th Century Hairwork Ring

1888 Sentimental Hair Band in Original Heart-Shaped Box

An Early Hair Ring: 1860 ‘My David’

Stuart Crystal 17th Century Ring Memento Mori

Rings of the late 17th century are the predecessors to many of the ring styles that followed through to the 19th century. They are also becoming harder and harder to find, as many were worn for their intent (as opposed to being hidden away as keepsakes) and they’ve survived many modern recessions that saw some beautiful pieces get broken down and melted for their gold.

So, when a piece like this appears, it’s worthwhile to take note. This particular piece is a testament popular art and sentimental symbolism of the late 18th century and shows many of the conventions that bred the mourning industry.

Firstly, we have the memento mori symbolism, which is often what many collectors gravitate towards. This particular piece is unusual, as the two cherubs are flanking/carrying the skull and crossbones that forms the central part of the motif under the crystal. Underneath this is the hairwork memento, of course. I should point out that the common title for crystal of this period is ‘Stuart Crystal’, due to the reign of the Stuarts, however, I often tend to refer to the material as simply ‘crystal’, due to latter pieces not under the reign with crystal being produced. The crystal is often faceted, with later examples often being domed or curved and the shape is essential to dating pieces. Look for more rounded bezels to be earlier (c.1680) examples and octagonal/harder edged examples to be closer to c.1700.

Stuart Crystal 17th Century Ring Memento Mori

Next to the cherubs is the gold wire cipher initials on top of the hair, which is also common of the time, often for sentimental or fashion, rather than just for mourning. The hairwork underneath was quite often material, rather than hair, but examples vary.

Stuart Crystal 17th Century Ring Memento Mori

The setting of the ring is pronounced on the finger, showing enamel under the bezel, another common feature, that in this piece shows much of the wear. As for the shank, there is loss to the enamel acanthus motif/design that runs down the sides of the band, but this is often the first area where much of the loss can occur with these pieces.

Certainly, what little of these rings exist in the world should be coveted and protected. They hold a style which existed and remained adapted though c.1660-c.1740 and were used across much of the mainstream jewellery design of the period.

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins

Form factor is one of the most important things to look for when discovering oddities in jewellery design. Every era has their quirks and their set styles, mostly following whatever appeals to the mainstream.

Victorian Snake Ring With SymbolsAs mourning/sentimental jewellery collectors, we’re particularly at the mercy of what sold well in its prime. Pieces were made to a high degree in order to facilitate the demand and necessity of the social display of mourning, hence when something that defies the trend pops up, then it’s a sight to behold.

Along with this high production and demand (people were going to die, families needed to display their grief), the Hallmark Act of 1854 saw the allowance for lower grade alloys to be used in jewellery construction, hence even higher production for mourning jewellery at smaller cost. So, once again, we need to discover some nice quirks surrounding popular movements in mainstream jewellery design/art.

Victorian Snake Ring With SymbolsWhich brings us to this snake ring, which revels in the excess of its design and also constructs the design around its materials. We have the forget-me-nots set in white enamel across the black of the shank, which twists into a design that curves around the ring and twists in upon itself, providing the sentiment of eternity. The garnet and its rich, red colour is the main centrepiece of the ring, balancing the emergence from full mourning during the late second to third stage with the very organic mourning symbolism of the shank and the ‘In Memory Of’ dedication. This takes a lot of the visual styling of the mid-19th century and rises above the common due to the confluence of designs and sentiments. There’s the touch of white enamel (purity/innocence), the rather standard black enamel and ‘In Memory Of’ and then the use of the garnet on top. Do note that many mourning jewels were reappropriated in the hairwork memento on top with other stones, but this piece appears untouched and original.

Victorian Snake Ring With SymbolsThe hallmarks are particularly crisp and its overall condition is pristine. Much of the time, rings like this were sparingly worn after being commissioned, or kept simply for their sentiment and not worn.

Pieces like this I tend to keep as pristine as possible. I would personally ensure that this time capsule from an earlier time remained as it was the day it was made, rather than harm the delicate enamel through wearing. There is a lot of indifference with some collectors towards Victorian pieces, mainly due to their recent history and how common they are to find (many were produced en masse through catalogues), but be it a piece of alloy or a finely created piece like this, the sentiment is the same and it’s an existing testament to a bygone age.

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins

Mourning Cameo Ring Victorian

Mourning cameos have been set in jewellery from the mid 18th Century as popular items.

Different materials have been used, such as shell, but onyx has always been a more popular choice. French memorial items widely used onyx in the 19th Century, as did many areas along the Continent.

This was not necessarily a response to the jet trade, but simply a fashionable material. Jewellery that can be considered for mourning or memorial in the early 20th Century is more commonly made from onyx.

This mid 19th Century piece above shows the wonderful carving of the broken urn and forget-me-not in the same cameo, making it less common than most which generally show one item or another.

Pearl Forget Me Not Ring 1862

Year: July 1862
Dedication: G.H (age 63)

The period of 1850 to 1870 saw a very common habit of the hair memento in rings hiding underneath the bezel itself. It is not uncommon to find a small compartment underneath a ring of this era with a twist or weave of hair.

Often, many people since have taken this hair out and had this compartment soldered over or replaced, but many still exist.

This didn’t simply relate to mourning, but also to sentimental rings, the top of the bezel often took the shape of shields or motifs with the sentiment appearing on top, be it a forget-me-not in pearls like this ring, a material such as diamonds or a statement written in enamel (such as ‘In Memory Of’). Fashion was becoming smaller on the fingers and larger around the neck and wrists, with the large navette styles and heavy enamelled bands giving way to this smaller and more functional style. Not to say that these pieces had disappeared entirely, however mourning was a daily ritual and the objects needed to be functional.

Still, the beauty of this ring isn’t obstructed in the least. It has beautiful Neo-Rococo Victorian floral gold work across the shank and the bezel surrounding the forget-me-not motif. Underneath is the obligatory hair compartment and this leans more towards the unique side of what pieces were made for the time.

An 1876 Hair Ring

August 27, 2010

Heavy Hair Band

I’ve spent the last few Fridays looking at hair bands through the late 19th century, not only because they are prolific but incredibly fascinating.

Hair bands (rings with hair woven through a compartment in the shank) became popular from the 1870s.

Pieces in this form can be seen dating back to the 1790s, but from this time, their popularity grew immensely. The mourning industry was on the decline from the mid 1800s, but these pieces can be seen right up to the first quarter of the 20th Century. Not necessarily mourning rings, they were also popular love tokens.

From the 1870s, there was a great shift towards these being very common rings to produce. They are quite easily available around the world and were created by many of the popular jewellers of the time. Travelling loved ones may have received pieces like this, as well as early betrothals of love and also for mourning.

The pieces from around the 1860s and 70s tend to be a little heavier in their construction and it isn’t uncommon to find gold filled pieces. Later, rolled gold and Pinchbeck became the standard, as well as more open ridges where the hair sits (note how this one is enclosed).

There are examples of completely enclosed rings that open on a hinge to reveal hair, often there are pieces with two kinds of hair entwined and the motifs were selected by the person commissioning/purchasing them. Words could also be found covering the hair ridge, spelling ‘DEAREST’, ‘MOTHER’, ‘FATHER’, and other sentiments, including names.

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