"Hair is at once the most delicate and lasting of our materials and survives us like love. It is so light, so gentle, so escaping from the idea of death, that, with a lock of hair belonging to a child or friend, we may almost look to heaven and compare notes with angelic nature, may almost say: 'I have a piece of thee here, not unworthy of thy being now.'" - Godey's Lady's Book, 1860
The use of memorial jewelry is in evidence as far back as Ancient Rome, but it reached the apex of it's production and popularity in the Victorian era. This memorial ring is a beautiful example of the early Victorian style, complete with very fine hair work -- an element introduced in the 1600s, but expanded upon and perfected in the Victorian era. The ring features a face set with four seed pearls (the symbol of tears), and a faceted rock crystal at the center. The hoop of the ring is hand-chased and set with a partially concealed channel of plaited hair. The braid is in excellent condition and is revealed through five extended diagonal cut outs. The inside of the band is hallmarked for Birmingham 1863 and 18k gold. This ring is a size 6.25 and cannot be sized.
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.