Jewelry that incorporated hair, be it locks or plaits, was the height of romanticism and sentimentality in the Victorian era. Before affordable portrait photography was developed, carrying a lock of hair was one of the most common ways of keeping the physical memory of a departed loved one close. Most hair jewelry was made by professional hair-weavers and/or jewelers for memorial purposes, but hair jewelry was also frequently given as a love token. This mourning ring is 18k yellow gold and hallmarked for Birmingham 1881. The inside of the band is engraved "In Memory of Brother Harry died 19.10.92 at 23". This means that the gold base was made in 1881, but the plaited hair and engraving were added in 1892 when the ring was purchased. The elaborately braided and pristine hair is concealed beneath two ingeniously hinged belt panels which fastens securely at the front of the ring.
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.