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Mourning Jewellery

  • History

The creation and wearing of memorial jewellery dates back to ancient times, however the ‘modern’ period can be identified as originating in the mid 1600’s in Italy.

In Great Britain mourning jewellery gained significant traction in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s with the Georgians passion for ‘memento mori’ pieces. The designs of these pieces feature Skeletons, Coffins and Skulls. An example from the 1723 featuring a skull in a glass coffin was recently sold by Sotheby’s in London and can be seen in the gallery above.

In the Victorian period the general mourning trends moved towards less graphic imagery; angels, clouds and initials become popular motifs. Mourning also became more formalised with expected periods and layers – such as ‘Deep Mourning’ when women were expected to wear all black for up to 3 years after the death of their husband. It was during this period that the main items of mourning jewellery would be commissioned and worn – often these featured the incorporation of the deceased’s hair, or a portrait of the deceased. When the Prince Consort Albert died in 1861 Queen Victoria entered deep mourning and commissioned several items of mourning jewellery. Both the black enamel ring and the gold locket above featuring photographs of Albert can be seen in photographs of Queen Victoria for the rest of her life.

A large amount of symbolism can also be seen in Victorian mourning Jewellery:
White enamel was used for an unmarried female or child.
Pearls were used to represent children in general.
Turquoise symbolised “thinking of you”

Throughout the 20th Century overt mourning jewellery declined in popularity, though more private forms have retained a small level of popularity. These tended to feature lockets or locket rings featuring a small lock of hair from the deceased.

Moving into the 21st century and the general trend towards cremation over burial mourning jewellery has moved on to the wearing of a sealed locket containing a small section of the deceased remains. These are often engraved with names or initials.

We are proud to have a selection of historical mourning items in our stock (and personal collections!), but we also offer vintage lockets for use in creating your special memorial.


Objects of Love and Loss: Mourning Jewellery – Museum of London, 2019
Camille Silvy Locket 1861 – Royal Collection Trust
Queen Victoria’s Locket – Royal Collection Trust
Mourning Ring with Microphotograph – Royal Collection Trust
The history of mourning jewellery, and why pearls are the traditional choice for royal funerals – The Telegraph, 2021
Remembering the Dearly Departed – Birmingham Museums, 2015
Victorian Mourning Jewellery – Funeral Guide, 2019
Locket, 1871 – V&A
Dead chic: the vogue for memento mori jewellery – The Jewellery Editor, 2018