It’s Only Words: Mourning Jewellery

Victorian Mourning pin

Talk in everlasting words
And dedicate them all to me
And I will give you all my life
I’m here if you should call to me
You think that I don’t even mean
A single word I say
It’s only words, and words are all
I have to take your heart away

From ‘Words’ by The Bee Gees

"The Spirit Hath Fled" - Victorian mourning locket with black and white enamel on 9k gold

I have previously written about different types of symbolism of mourning jewellery, how pearls represented tears; and ivy represented fidelity; locks of hair from the deceased were incorporated into jewellery; painted miniatures of single eye surrounded by clouds and tears were symbols of a lost love; and  – of course – there was jet carved into glittering brooches and beads for mourning jewellery. I haven’t even touched on the meanings of urns, angels, anchors and acorns (another day, perhaps). However, not every piece of mourning jewellery had to have a masked meaning. Some came right out with sentiments written onto the gems and jewels.

Victorian locket inscribed and containing a lock of hair. Momento Mori of Hannah Taylor who died in 1878.

VICTORIAN Mourning Locket - Vulcanite.

Lockets could contain messages, and often the messages were inscribed directly onto the item. The personalisation of the mourning jewellery meant it had greater sentimental value to the person wearing it. A necklace of ivy leaves might be pretty, but a locket with a picture – worn close to a broken heart – has an added emotional charge. I know for a fact that the real value in a piece of jewellery is what memories it evokes, rather than if it is made of gold and rubies.

Love after Death: The Beautiful, Macabre World of Mourning Jewelry

Sometimes a family would have mourning jewellery made up to hand out to chosen mourners at the funeral of the dearly departed, rather like party tokens, but with a much darker symbolism. Personally, I think the written mottoes and verses are sweeter than any other symbols, but it probably because I am a writer. It is more specific to wear a brooch stating ‘My Dear Father’ than be dripping with mourning jewellery that could refer to anyone.

Victorian gold metal/painted French jet IMO My Dear father mourning brooch

Victorian mourning brooch - it was fashionable amongst the middle and upper classes in particular to wear jewellery commemorating the dead. This would often include a lock of the hair of the lost loved one, a photograph, or both

Actually, this jewellery moves me much more than anything else I’ve shared before. I guess it is because I can relate better to a specific loss. I can understand the pain of the loss of a grandfather or a child. This is good thing to remember as a writer. If you want to touch your audience, they need specifics and not generalizations.



Filed under Bling, History, Jewellery, Mementos, Metaphors, Mourning, Victorian Era, writing

9 responses to “It’s Only Words: Mourning Jewellery

  1. That final one is a real heart-breaker. The photo – BAM!
    Being a parent opens up new landscapes of pain. And joy.

  2. I love this piece. I have a fascination for mourning jewellery. Always have had. I remember my mother in laws comment when her son died at 45 from MS. She stood graveside and simply said “it is not right that you should bury your child” and my beautiful daughter in law and my son on losing their wonderful baby, James for whom I wrote, ‘In Memorium’. We never stop grieving for loved ones we adjust. Thanks again for this piece.

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