“Life is fleeting and death inevitable”. To us mourning or memorial jewellery may seem a little macabre. But look a little closer and these beautifully crafted pieces reflect a time when death was very much a way of life. Memorial jewellery acted as a visual reminder of loved ones passed and prompted the wearer to live for the moment as life could be short.
Early memorial jewellery often incorporated an inscription relating to the deceased, typically a small poem, such as ‘Not lost but gone before', or ‘Requiescat In Pace' (Rest in Peace). Often these phrases would be inscribed on a simple band with dates of their death. It was common to set aside money in your will to allow the creation of such pieces which would then be gifted to loved ones to remember you by.
Skulls were always a popular design in memento mori jewellery, along with coffins and in some cases a complete skeleton. These could be depicted on the outside or inside of bands. The other major decorative device used was hair belonging to the deceased carefully woven, either centrally set or hidden underneath the bezel.
Some of these stylistic devices continued into the eighteenth century, especially the decorative use of hair. Popular motifs included weeping willow trees, funerary urns, harps and wheat sheaves. Black and dark shades of enamel were often used, sometimes combined with dark gemstones. White enamel featured if the deceased was unmarried. At this time, the inscriptions were typically the name, the date of death and the age of the deceased.
Available at Berganza is a fascinating range of memorial and memento mori jewellery from the early 18th century to late 19th century.