By the mid-19th century, bracelets adapted along with the evolution of costume. Voluminous crinolines and wide sleeves accommodated wide-weaves of hairwork and lighter, bulkier materials such as Jet to be worn easily at the wrist.

By 1854, the Hallmarking Act allowed for the use of lower grade alloys in jewellery construction, leading to a higher level of production of lighter clasps and fixtures in bracelets, many of which are very common for the collector to find today. Light materials, such as hairwork, when produced with the rolled-gold or pressed fittings led to bulkier designs being easier to wear.

It should be noted for today’s collector that hairwork does not equate to ‘mourning’, but was a sentimental material used in mainstream fashion, a misconception that many sellers automatically affix to pieces being sold today.

Note the evolution of the bracelet style from the previous century of the clasps seen earlier. This still retains a larger shape, but has adopted the Victorian Rococo revival motifs.

While enjoying the romantic splendour of Bath in England I came across this most touching brooch with accompanying sampler.

Mr F Wilson

The brooch itself is large in scale, and classically High Victorian Gothic in style. Its decorative triangular border juxtaposed with smooth arches is visually dominating,  masculine and architectural. It is not a swivel brooch, but has glazed compartments for photos on both the front and rear.

Mrs F Wilson

The front image is that of a bearded man. Due to its dominant placement and the fact that it is more faded, it appears to be an earlier image to that of the woman. The gent is Mr Francis Wilson. The woman whose photo is in the back compartment is Mrs F Wilson. The image retains much of its (presumably) hand-applied colour, and she is possibly wearing this very brooch.

The wonderfully shaped domed box appears to be original. It has been embossed on the lid ‘Mrs F. Wilson August 18, 1858’.

A blue cloth purse accompanies the brooch and inside is a most delicate sampler, simply embroidered to read:

Ah! would to heaven I ne’er had seen,
Thy manly form, thy graceful mien,
Thine eyes of lovely blue,
For then my heart had never known
The pain it feels for thee alone,
The sighs that heave for you!
But why lament the pains I find,
Since Francis has a generous mind
From meaner passions free!
Oh! rather let me bless the day
My simple heart was led away,
A captive caught by thee!
F. Wilson. 1842

The delicate sampler with the cloth purse

From the material provided I believe the logical sequence of events here is that the sampler was produced in 1842 by Mrs F Wilson upon the death of her husband. The brooch bears Mr Wilson’s photograph, perhaps Mrs Wilson already had this made as a sentimental piece, and it became a memorial piece upon his death, but just as possibly was purchased and used as a memorial piece in 1842.

Embossed box

In 1858 Mrs F Wilson passed away. The date of her passing is embossed on the lid of the box, also at this time a third person (perhaps a son or daughter?) places a later photograph of Mrs Wilson into the brooch that she treasured so much, and transforms it into a memorial for two beloved people.

The piecing together of the turn of events certainly has room for reappraisal, however, the dealer in Bath did purchase it from a member of the Wilson family who confirmed the relationship. It also provides a strong basis from which to undertake further research.

More importantly, based on the poem alone, it depicts a story of enduring marital love between the kind, blue-eyed Francis and the talented, elegant Mrs F Wilson, which death itself can not end.

Molam De Love

The aesthetic movement helped carry through a consistency of latter 19th century jewellery, this and high levels of production. It is common to find motifs and designs become equal, with interchangeable materials of use for the jewel. Rings, in particular, are quite commonly created in both silver and gold, with almost identical moulds producing the piece. Gems and other materials used are also at the mercy of customisation, but the outcomes, regardless of the use of a garnet, aquamarine, or any colour of stone produces a ring that may look very different, but upon inspection, the designs are nearly identical.

19th century garnet ring

This piece is c.1890, but there is a good twenty years of production for this style; it lasted well into the early 20th century and its embellishments of the Rococo Revival period, with the acanthus and the forget-me-not are safe, innocuous and sentimental symbols in a time of highly produced, wearable jewellery and a more global outlook to virtue and values.

19th century garnet ring

This particular style was adapted in the Art Nouveau period to reflect the more organic and natural approach to jewellery design (and design in general), you can often find these pieces in silver, rather than gold, however.

19th century garnet ring

Expect to find similar pieces at your local estate jeweller or antique shop, they’re still very wearable and will always remain beautiful!

In my cabinet there lies a vulcanite brooch I purchased from an antique store in Melbourne. It appealed to me because it is a mourning brooch and symbolised the mourning of children; a particular interest of mine.  Little did I know it also connected me in a Kevin Bacon-esque way to Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770 – 1844), a Danish sculptor and one of those lucky few artists who gained significant success within his lifetime.

Nyx (Night) with her two children Sleep and Death, in Vulcanite

Vulcanite is a type of early rubber create by Charles Goodyear, it became a very popular form of substitute jet for the jewellery industry in Victorian England. I personally really like the substance. You will have seen a number of vulcanite objects in jewellery stores and online. Often, like this piece, there is a large oval base on to which a secondary piece is firmly attached to create a cameo effect. The cameo-like piece is moulded hence such fine detail can be created. Note there is no evidence of carving, no marks, no modulated surfaces, telltale signs this is moulded. (As a side note, the dealer kept telling me this was jet. I knew otherwise, but the price was fine so I didn’t contradict. I’m sure fellow collectors have similar stories).

Detail of Nyx. Note the detailed features and smooth surfaces.

Whereas vulcanite brooches often display popular Victorian motifs such as flowers, hands, crosses, and all number of flora; this particular image is not commonly available. But, who is she, this winged woman, this angel who is carrying two children into the heavens? Well, although I didn’t know it when I first saw her, she is Nyx.

Nyx – the ancient Greek mythological figure of night. Let’s not call her the Goddess of night, she is more Night personified – she is night – one of the first created beings, the daughter of Chaos.  Pausanias who lived in second century AD was a traveller and writer and is known for his incredible records of the ancient world.  He travelled to Olympia where he saw and described the ancient Chest of Kypselos covered in magnificent relief carvings. Pausanias wrote: “There is also a chest made of cedar, with figures on it, some of ivory, some of gold, others carved out of the cedar-wood itself…Now I come to the second space on the chest, and in going round it I had better begin from the left. There is a figure of a woman holding on her right arm a white child asleep, and on her left she has a black child like one who is asleep. Each has his feet turned different ways. The inscriptions declare, as one could infer without inscriptions, that the figures are Death and Sleep, with Night the nurse of both.”

Thorvaldsen's marble relief 'Nyx' 1815 currently in Thorvaldsens Museum, Copenhagen. The Museum writes: The reliefs Night and Day that hang opposite each other at the Museum are Thorvaldsen's most popular reliefs. As opposites they represent the two halves of a day, and together symbolise the wholeness of a day. Night personified floats passively over the sky with her neck bent. Her eyes are closed as is the eyes of the children in her embrace. Her hair is braided with poppies, with their sleep inducing capacities, known since Antiquity. The animal of the night - an owl - flies directly and as if urging out towards us. Be Quiet!

A committed Neo-Classicist the sculptor Thorvaldsen created artworks inspired by Greek and Roman mythology, and would have been familiar with the writings of Pausanias and later depictions of Night as a winged figure. Although Danish, he lived and worked in Rome for forty years. One of his most popular relief carvings created in Rome was the marble panel of Nyx carved in 1815 and pictured here. But how did this image come to be introduced into the everyday vernacular of jewellery fashion in England some decades later?

Another example this time painted on a locket. Circa 1860 - 1880. Courtesy of online museum As Time Dances By website.

Luckily Charlotte Gere and Judy Rudoe answered that question for me in the British Museum publication Jewellery in the Age of Queen Victoria. As mentioned Thorvaldsen was based in Rome, and every Englishman worth his weight went on the Grand Tour. English sculptor John Gibson studied under Thorvaldsen. Gibson knew the prestigious cameo artists Tommaso and Luigi Saulini. Tommaso trained with Thorvaldsen also. The Saulinis were inspired by the works of both Gibson and Thorvaldsen for their own cameo carvings. Most importantly, Tommaso Saulini created a shell cameo of Thorvaldsen’s ‘Night’ for the 1862 Grand Exhibition in London where it was so popular it won a prize. (pp. 474-475). Today there is another Italian cameo of ‘Night’ circa 1840 in the British Museum carved out of malachite. Therein lies a significant body of evidence that Nyx / Night was a popular and recognised image in Victorian England. Again, this leads us to another question though – why? And why did it resonate so much that it was used in mourning jewellery?

Sleep. Oh, goodness gracious the Victorians were so full of subtext weren’t they? What is night and what is sleep to a Victorian Englishperson than the perfect allegory for death? In fact, the Victorians were so concerned with the ideal death, that moment of spiritual contentment, and then, quiet repose – that sleep is in fact the perfect euphemism. Do you recall the names of the babes in Night’s arms, her sons? Sleep and Death. What is a winged classical figure to a Christian Victorian Englishman or woman? Could we safely assume an angel, carrying the innocent to the glorious haven of heaven?

Within the ritual of mourning, art speaks and provides comfort.

– Marielle Soni

There is black enamel, gold and hair….and then there is black enamel, gold and hair. This fine example is of the latter. A fine Victorian gold and enamel brooch with a plaited hair insert and black enamel decorated with floral and foliate motifs.  The reverse is inscribed with the names of Agnes and Sarah Robinson who died in 1845 and 1860 respectively.  The brooch measures 4cm (1.6 in) by 3cm (1.2 in).

An overall pleasing composition created with a simple palette

The gold floral motifs are of exquisitely fine detail. The  scrolled borders are of extraordinary craftsmanship. This is a wonderful example of the traditional Victorian mourning aesthetic at a level far and beyond. I particularly respond to the completeness of this brooch – the grey hair, beautifully woven with brown, corresponds most pleasingly with the composition of the foliate design and the overall shape of the ornate frame. The eye is drawn across  and around in what is a very satisfying piece.

Dedications inscribed on the reverse

To Agnes Robinson ob. 15. May 1845. AET. 63. Sarah Robinson obt. 2 February 1860 AEt 79 – possibly sisters – you and/or your family had very fine taste and honour you well.

Detail of the fine floral motifs and inner & outer scrolled borders

– Marielle Soni

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

When it comes to hinges in rings, there are many variations of the kind and it’s only when a style is at its absolute peak does the commonality and perfection of the form match the jewel itself.

And what do I mean by this, I hear you ask? Indeed, there have been unusual forms of hinges in rings dating back to pre-history, but for sentimental and memorial jewels of the late 19th century, you will find the hinged hairwork band to be one of the more common popular jewels produced. This leads into a lot of what was mass produced in the late 19th century in terms of jewellery design.

Jewellery design was at a point where it transcended socio-economic boundaries and found itself trapped within the necessary lexicon of moral standard. This is particularly true of mourning jewels, which had their set factors in time of the dictated mourning periods (1st, 2nd and 3rd) in Protestant-based Western culture, rather than sentimental jewels which were worn with reasons of personal beauty and random affection.

It was also a time where other styles of art, from the popular Arts and Crafts movement and subsequent Art Nouveau movement began to permeate the mainstream society and influence the style of jewellery design that was quite locked into the static social standard that had existed from the 1860s to 1890s. While the society was rebelling against these pre-established concepts, we have to look at what was also influencing it.

Mass production becomes a major factor here; a society locked within its very formal ways was being facilitated by high levels of production and low cost for items that were necessary within society. Look to establishments such as Jay’s Mourning Warehouse; places which tailored the mourning experience (and travelled!) to the individual and basically created a fashionable culture around this social necessity.

Mother Hairwork Hinged Ring

How does this impact this ring? Indeed, this ring comes from a time when this formalisation was becoming set, yet it has a wonderfully individual slant on the style. By the 1870s, society from the UK to America was finding these measures of standardisation in production, with the catalogue being the primary source of purchase and rings in particular (with fob chains, brooches and pins) being the more obvious items of fashion for day to day wear that denoted affection. Note how this ring is detailed within the hinge itself and the curvature to the band. It becomes almost an adaption of the style, which is clearly visible in the ring itself. Hair bands of the 1860s and 70s set the precedent for the mass production of the 90s, with a noticeably heavier weight in gold, thinner styles and greater differentiation with the shield or dedications on the front. In this, we have the formal Empire flourishes to the surrounding shield with ‘mother’ written very elegantly inside. The interior is dedicated ‘T.H. Morris’ and the woven hair is still in excellent condition.

Mother Hairwork Hinged Ring

One can draw inferences about how and why this ring was worn, certainly the dedication speaks for itself, however a good way to begin this form of esoteric analysis is to look at the condition of the piece and then draw some conclusions about its interactivity with day to day life.

I’ll leave that there, I won’t want to muddy the waters of fact with any sort of blind romanticism!

Enjoy the ring, because I know I will – I have a special affection for hinged bands.

Courtesy: Sarah Nehama
Dedication: Mother / T.H. Morris
In Memory Of Mid Victorian Brooch

'In Memory Of' in Black Enamel, The New Direction

Before (and somewhat during) the heavy influence of the heavy Neo-Rococo designs that worked so well with memorial and sentimental symbolism in jewellery, the heavy, clean lines of the Empire Style (seen previously during the Neoclassical movement of the first quarter 19th century), had an influence on jewellery of the mid 19th century era, straightening out the embellished Neo-Gothic designs and producing something quite bold and powerful, such as this brooch.

With a simple insert of banded sardonyx and the clean lines giving way to break the brooch into quarters of ‘IN’, ‘MEM’, ‘ORY’, ‘OF’ trailing around its oval shape, the piece is on the verge of a movement that would see brooch styles grow very large. This piece, however is around 3.5cm in width, not very large and shows how the simplicity of mourning jewellery in stark symbolism was overtaking the gold embellishments of Neo-Gothic period and the opulent artistic allusions and scenarios of the Neoclassical era.

With such high mortality rates and a royal family that was imposing classic Christian family values upon the household, mourning was losing the surrounding pomp that had been popular fifty years earlier. Symbolism was sharp and bold (such as snakes, forget-me-nots and many other symbols still popular in funerary art today), with the construction of the pieces being large, bold and simple with a typical mourning statement on top or wrapped around a piece.

Don’t forget to head over and join the Art of Mourning Facebook Group if you want to have a chat with other collectors or see some more lovely items! Tomorrow, you might get to see something equally as lovely and then there’s Sunday… I wonder what symbolism will be on display then?

Further Brooches

A Sentimental Brooch For a Mother and Daughter, c.1860

Join Me with a Look at a 19th Century Sentimental Cameo Brooch of Artemis Featuring Hairwork

Spotlight On: Soul Brooch

Spotlight On: Snake Brooch

Spotlight On: 1788 Sarah Honlett Brooch

Dedication: To D.H.R from her affectionate mother.

Often a piece comes along that you feel in your heart is special and was kept untouched and loved for a reason. This brooch is one of those, not only for its pristine condition, but for the glorious sentiment between a mother and daughter.

This piece specifically states that it is a love token, an affectionate gift from the lady’s mother and we can take a lot in just from looking at it.


1860 Sentimental Brooch

Dedication and More Hair


It is a quite heavy piece and solid, with feathered tableworked hair with three pearls on milk glass on the front, with a simple twist of hair under glass on the reverse. We could assume that the mother’s hair is on top and the daughter’s underneath, but this is merely speculation without any absolute fact. One of the dangers of analysing a piece is becoming emotionally attached to it and making grand statements, when there is no basis for it. In the gold work, we can see subtle heart and clover motifs worked into the Rococo lines, yet nothing overpowers the large hair memento inside.

By the 1860s, brooches worn at the neck were becoming larger in fashion, so this piece is quite obvious and proud for its time. There’s no enamel of which to speak, so the gold design itself does the talking for it. Post 1861, the focus on sentimental jewels had grown far larger than it was even previously (if you’ve been reading this site, they had been quite popular with a large industry for the previous 250 years), however, post Albert’s death and Victoria’s adoption of perpetual mourning, combined with the introduction of the allowance of cheaper alloys in jewellery from 1854, the vales of sentiment focused upon the woman in the Victorian household was not only mandatory, but it was financially possible to buy the paraphernalia.

On the face of it, this Pinchbeck brooch shows a significant amount of damage and its physical price would not be very great (I don’t really like talking about prices as they are transient and mostly in the eye of the beholder). We have the oxidisation to the top of the piece, a layer of high gloss enamel that shows signs of very rudimentary repair and water damage to the hair inside the memento. The piece is light and hollow, with the damage to the exterior frame showing being knocked and bent, with even one of the flourishes missing from the bottom of the frame itself and enamelled over.

On the face of it, a collector would look the other way, but underneath it all, one must wonder why they are collectors. Is it to buy every/any piece that comes along in order to expand a collection and does that provide gratification?

For me, I find infinite delight in this for many reasons, its age and damage tell a story – the person who wore it did so with love. One can only assume that from the damage, other than a century of careless or apathetic behaviour from future generations, the piece was worn for the sentiment it was designed for. It was worn, rather than kept hidden from site and displayed the love token with intent.

It is a wonderful little time capsule for that reason, but also I just love the artistic and design of it.

The Neo-Rococo Victorian design that frames the piece is bold and marries together the earlier tight floral style that surrounds the hair itself, showing a transition of the old to the new. It really is a transitional piece, the large size (around 6cm across), shows the growth of brooches from the 1840s to the 1860s, as their prominence around the neck became larger for the latter stages of mourning and rings became smaller. So, it tells a story, this piece. It tells a story of its history and any further than that is merely subjective, but the fact is there.

So, did I buy it to take space? No, I bought it because it’s a link in a chain and one that will continue on for long after I’m gone.

And you, dear reader, do you collect for sentimental reasons or for quality reasons? Post in the comments or discuss over in the Facebook group!

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