FEATURE – Exeter museum presents mourning jewels highlighting sentimentality in Victorian era


By David Brough

EXETER, England – The Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) in Exeter, southwest England, presents a selection of mourning jewels, some of them featuring human hair, that highlight the popularity of sentimental adornments in Victorian times.

Examples include a pendant cross with gold fittings and plaited hair, dating from the mid 19th century; a mourning brooch (1853), incorporating enamelled metal and glass, containing a lock of woven human hair; and a carved jet brooch from the 1860s.

Exeter museum presents mourning jewels

During the first stage of deep mourning, women wore no jewellery at all.

During the second stage, etiquette allowed only black or white — carved jet fitted the bill perfectly.

Jet ornaments were made and sold throughout England in the 1860s.

The centre of the industry was Whitby, Yorkshire, where jet, a fossilised wood, was mined.

A mourning locket, made from jet, glass and human hair, and dating from the mid to late 19th century, can also be seen in the display.

There was a tradition of mourning jewellery dating back to the 17th century.

Plain lockets preserved photographs or a lock of hair of the departed loved one.

Many examples survive from the 19th century when sentimental mourning jewellery was popular.

“Hair is at once the most delicate and lasting of our materials and survives us like love,” said one women’s magazine.

Exeter museum presents mourning jewels