August 15, 2010

Good Mourning

A much postponed clearout this weekend unearthed a bag full of rag-tag pieces of jet jewellery which I inherited from a long-gone relative. The dark skies and torrential rain that have beset this August weekend, together with the discovery of these funereal trinkets, have put me in the mood for something a little... dark.

Although worn in England since the Middle Ages, mourning jewellery became popular in the 15th and 16th century when hair of the deceased, skulls (not of the deceased), coffins and urns all featured in pieces made predominantly from gold and enamel. Known as memento mori, these articles were designed to remind the wearer of their own mortality.

The band on this skull ring reads 'Eliz Easton ob 7 Oct 1740 AE 16'. The use of white enamel signified the deceased was a virgin.

Bad hair day: Jet brooch embelished with the deceased's locks

Jet jewellery became popular during the Victorian era, notably after the death of Queen Victoria's beloved husband, Albert, in 1861. Victoria went into mourning for the rest of her days (a not inconsiderable number, given that she died in 1901), her subjects assumed black garb and jet became the ornament of choice.

Victorian jet and ivory cameo

Made from fossilized wood and mined in Whitby, North Yorkshire, jet had been used since the Bronze Age to make beads and other jewellery.

Cross-shaped jet brooch, decorated with a heart and anchor, 1850-1900

Perhaps un-coincidentally, when writing his novel, Dracula, Bram Stoker chose Whitby as the vampire Count's bleak dropping off point when his ship, The Demeter, is grounded in a storm. Spooky.

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