This late Victorian mourning bracelet is made up of twenty banded agate beads linked together with gold fill wire and a two-sided photo locket. Each black bead is approximately 3/8" in diameter with a razor thin white band running through its center. The locket features blue enamel lilies of the valley on one side, and a black and white photo of a man on the other. Lilies of the valley symbolized a variety of sentiments in the Victorian period, but when used in mourning jewelry they signify the tears of the Virgin Mary. Black is the traditional color of mourning and was worn by members of a bereaved family for up to two and a half years after the loss of a loved one. Traditionally there were four stages of mourning, during the fourth and final period certain colors (including grey, violet, white and some shades of blue) were integrated back into the wardrobe. This bracelet was likely made for it's mourner during the last stage given the use blue enamel. The bracelet measures 8", not including the locket, and can be fastened between the beads for a tighter fit, leaving the locket to dangle. This unusual and beautifully crafted piece is in nearly perfect condition with no enamel loss or scratches to the glass.
VICTORIAN (1837 - 1901)
The Western world was thoroughly transformed during Queen Victoria’s epically long reign. New technology, urbanization, and industrialization created a middle class flush with disposable income, and for the first time, jewelry was mass-produced to sell to everyone.
The Victorians were avid consumers and novelty-seekers, especially when it came to fashion, and numerous fads came and went throughout the 19th century. In jewelry, whatever fashion choices Queen V. made reverberated throughout the kingdom. The Romantic period reflected the queen’s legendary love for her husband, Albert. Jewelry from this period featured joyful designs like flowers, hearts, and birds, all which often had symbolic meaning. The queen’s betrothal ring was made in the shape of a snake, which stood for love, fidelity, and eternity. The exuberant tone shifted after Prince Albert passed away in 1861, marking the beginning of the Grand Period. Black jewelry became de rigeur as the Queen and her subjects entered “mourning,” which at the time represented not just an emotional state, as we conceive of it today, but a specific manner of conduct and dress. She wore the color black for the remainder of her life, and we see lots of black onyx, enamel, jet, and gutta percha in the jewelry from this time. Finally, during the late Victorian period, which transitioned along with a rapidly changing world into the “Aesthetic Movemement”, there was a return to organic and whimsical motifs: serpents, crescent moons, animals, and Japonaisserie designed for the more liberated “Gibson Girl”.
During the second half of the 19th century, America entered the global jewelry market, with Tiffany and Co. leading the way. Lapidaries continued to perfect their techniques, and the old European cut emerged toward the end of the Victorian period. The discovery of rich diamond mines in South Africa made the colorless stones more accessible than ever before.