Mourning jewelry has appeared in various forms throughout history, but it held an especially long streak of popularity from the 16th to 19th centuries. In the 16th century, mourning jewelry trended toward images of memento mori (such as skulls or skeletons) or locks of the deceased’s hair held in a locket. In the 17th century, miniature portraits of the deceased became a common theme, with a surge after the execution of King Charles I, whose supporters wore his image. The Georgian era (1714-1830) saw a turn away from portraits of a dead loved one toward romantic depictions of grieving women, often accompanied by imagery such as tombstones, urns, and weeping willows. The names or initials of the dead and sentimental sayings about eternal love or eternal life might also appear. Hair, once confined to a locket, began to take a more front-and-center role, woven and coiled into decorative patterns, a fashion that would continue to flourish in the Victorian era (1837 – 1901). Queen Victoria, perhaps the most famous wearer of mourning jewelry, popularized all-black mourning attire, spreading the use of enamel, jet, onyx, and other black materials in jewelry.
One of our latest finds at Prather Beeland is this gorgeous late Georgian mourning ring. Mounted in a black and gold setting, the miniature depicts a woman in neoclassical robes and an urn. The ring’s back features two sets of initials, perhaps of a husband and wife. A beautiful piece for a romantic’s collection!